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Posted: December 24, 2010 3:00 p.m.

Where's the beef?

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You can’t raise a cow in the backyard of a subdivision home, but some suburban teens get a chance to experience ranch life and learn about the business of beef through the Future Farmers of America market steer program at Newton County High School.

Students can buy a calf or pig and raise it to maturity, right on the school grounds.

"All these kids live in subdivisions, never having the opportunity to be around livestock and take care of them," said Ryan Talton, FFA advisor and a teacher at the school. "In the program, they learn the importance of feeding the animal with natural food, keeping it healthy, learning to trim and groom, how to walk and show the animal and to speak with the public at the shows."

Student Baltazar Alvarez purchased his Hereford last June, when it was eight months old and weighed about 628 pounds. Baltazar and the other teens feed their animals Winning Program Show calf feed, which is made by Godfrey Feed in Madison. Baltazar has shown his cow in 11 shows, winning ribbons.

Bradley Simmons, a senior, has enjoyed participating in the program and said it’s been a good preparation for a career. "I have really learned a lot about business by raising this cow," Bradley said. "Now I want to go to college and get a business degree and maybe own some cattle in the future."

The students can also raise pigs. Dalton Hegwood owns a crossbred Hampshire, appropriately named Link.

Other students participating in the program are Jenna Lawson, Robert Murphy, Skylar Murphy, Skyler Crawford, Ben Richardson, Josie Stamps, Lacy Powell, McKenzie Powell and John Beavers.

The animals are for show, but also for business. In late February or early March, the Newton County FFA Showteam will sell their steers for beef. The sale will help offset costs incurred by the students for raising the animals and allow them to save money for college.

Steers usually weight in around 1,200 pounds and dress out at about 700 pounds. There will be 12 steers sold at $1.50 per pound live weight, with the buyer assuming all of the processing fees. The University of Georgia Meat Science Lab processes the steers, then vacuum seals the meat to keep it fresh for greater lengths of time.

Bryan Vasquez, a senior, says he understood from the first that he is raising a steer that will be sold for meat. "I would never have known about any of this without our ag program and the FFA. I want to pursue a business degree after graduation."

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