When Toyann Burnett takes her “pet” for walks down the busy streets near her Mission Viejo home, heads turn.
Haylie Wilson has been thrown over a fence by Rambo.
And once, Aaron Fetzer, while breaking up a fight, had his shoe bitten off.
No, these teen-agers are not models, actors or professional wrestlers. They are members of Future Farmers of America, who raise livestock for show, sale and auction.
At the Orange County Fair through Sunday, Burnett, Wilson, Fetzer and other FFA students are showing their animals, which include steer, lambs, pigs and veal calves. The teen-agers come equipped with laughter, jokes, tales of livestock liveliness and a realization that the animals they have raised for the past few months will soon be sold and slaughtered.
Fetzer, 16, is a sophomore at Sonora High School. He enrolled in his school’s agriculture program this past school year. He has raised two pigs, one of which has already been sold--to his dad. That doesn’t bother him, though.
“You can’t get too attached to them because you are raising them for food. They aren’t pets,” he said.
His current pig, named Feisty for her desire to get into fights, is the cause of his lost shoe. “When they start fighting, you have to break them up or they’ll fight to the death, practically,” he said. “That’s how I got the toe of my shoe bit off.”
Despite the pigs’ occasional stubbornness, Fetzer likes raising them because of their intelligence, he said, and also because of their ability to be trained.
“They’re smarter than dogs, and it’s easy to teach them to walk and follow you,” he said. “When you walk them, you use canes and tap them, like on the right if you want them to turn left, and vice versa.”
Though Fetzer doesn’t walk Feisty down the streets of Fullerton, Burnett, 15, a Mission Viejo High junior, did take her “pet,” a lamb named Corey, on an occasional stroll “to get him used to the activity at the fair,” she said.
“People would think he was a dog, at first, and he’d turn a lot of heads,” Burnett said.
Along with her lamb, Burnett raised a pig during the past year, her second in her school’s agriculture program. She disagrees with Fetzer when it comes to a bond between owner and animal.
“I wasn’t all that attached to my pig, but I’m most definitely at- tached to my lamb,” she said. “With lambs, it’s almost like they’re dogs. Corey is so lovable, and he has his own personality. I’ve had him for three months, and I’m going to cry when I have to sell him.”
As for 17-year-old Wilson, a senior at Sonora High, and Rambo . . . well, he’s a ram.
“I was daring people to come into the pasture, and when I turned around I didn’t see him coming,” she said. “I scrambled over the fence as fast as I could, but he hit me and I landed on my back. I was really embarrassed.”
The agriculture animals seem to like to voice their opinions. From bleats to baaaas, grunts to moos, they certainly let people know they are there.
In fact, Marcie Prado, 16, a Costa Mesa High junior, could hardly get a word in edgewise.
“I appreciate the sense of responsibili--"
“You shut up,” she said to her steer, Nagel, adding: “And I like the animals--"
“Shut up! No one asked your opinion,” she said. Nagel was quiet from then on.
She remembers the day she and her father went to Cal Poly Pomona to buy the steer.
“My dad’s a nice, white-collar businessman, and (the people at Pomona) took us out in an old clanky Ford pickup to this big field filled with steers. It was really funny,” she said.
Prado, who has been in FFA for two years, said the Costa Mesa High farm was her primary reason for attending that school.
Her reasons for joining the program are similar to those of many participants: friends, closeness to the animals, and fun.
“I think the FFA programs are best for city kids who can’t raise animals,” said Randy Hamm, 17, a La Habra High senior.
Agriculture classes also teach students responsibility, added Noelle Foley, 18, a recent graduate of Mission Viejo High. “You have to be there every day and on weekends and holidays,” she said. “You begin to form a family unit with other Ag members too, since you’re there all the time. You can make a lot of friends.”
Many of the schools that offer FFA programs have classes in horticulture, veterinary science and agricultural science. Although farming may not be the No. 1 career choice, veterinary medicine and agriculture business and management are right up there.
“I did it for myself,” said La Habra High senior Michelle Walsten, 17. “I want to be a veterinarian. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time--since I was 7.”
For Foley, agriculture helped her discover what she wanted to do with her life. After earning her general education requirements at Saddleback College, she plans to transfer to Cal Poly Pomona. Since she has been involved with agriculture programs, her parents have purchased a horse and a feed store, and she has been teaching riding to children. One day, she hopes to run her parents’ store and show her horse.
David Otani, a recent graduate of Buena Park High, is interested in science. He named his veal calf Tungsten, after the metal.
“Actually, I named him that because he slobbers and his tongue hangs out all the time,” he said. “His tongue does all the work, so I came up with Tung sten.”
There can be problems, he added. Because the calves are fed only milk and grain, they have to be taken from their mothers early in life, usually within the first week, and their fragility can sometimes cause illnesses or death, he said.
Veal calves can cost anywhere from $50 to $400 to raise, but as Otani said, “You get what you pay for.” Tungsten cost about $200, and should sell for at least $300 at the fair’s auction, Otani said.
“Most of the people aren’t in Ag for the money,” he said. “They’re in it for the experience.”
Like many other high school activities, FFA is designed to produce leaders--in this case, in the agricultural community.
But at the fair, winning a prize isn’t everything, according to Cindy Tessler, 17, a senior at Sonora High. “The competition is fun, and so is meeting other people. But these animals are what it’s all about. You don’t learn anything about them in regular classes. In FFA classes you learn about real life.
“Sure, everyone loves to win,” she added, “but you have to have fun.”