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One Heck of a Handful: Two Teenagers Talk about the Demands of Raising Show Animals

Graci Leonard and Gracie McHenry
courtesy of Jean Anders
Graci Leonard and Gracie McHenry

As part of our series County Lines, Community Voices producer Anna Lurie went to rural Northeastern High School in Clark County, to talk to students in FFA about their lives.  Two sophomore friends at Northeastern, Graci Leonard and Gracie McHenry, discuss how they manage the demands of raising and showing animals, especially when life doesn’t go according to plan.


Graci Leonard: So what does a normal day for you look like?  I know it can be pretty hectic so how do you handle it?

Gracie McHenry: So, I wake up every morning.  I go out and feed the animals, I have six pigs at the moment.  Um, I go in house, shower, get ready for school, get on the bus.  I go to school for seven hours, most of the time have after school activities, and then I come home, feed the pigs, go eat dinner, do my homework and come out and walk the animals.

Graci Leonard: Now that sounds like a handful.  Do you ever struggle finding time to have a decent social life

Gracie McHenry:  I mean, together, I feel we both know that school, and social life, and animals is one heck of a handful…

Graci Leonard: I agree, it’s, uh, I know what you’re saying, I agree with it.  It’s very hard, uh, I show animals as well, um, not as much as you do.  I do the cattle fair and and I also play sports, so I understand that having a social life is hard when you are so caught up in the big aspect of trying to raise an animal.

Gracie McHenry: So, I know you play travel softball and you’re pretty good at it too, as well as school softball.  How do you handle that with your animals?

Graci Leonard: It’s hard.  I’m not gonna lie.  So, during the summer, we roughly have a tournament every week from the start of June to the end of July, even to the beginning of August.  And in the middle of that, I also have to work with my animals, get them ready for fair, as well as just keep up with them and just care for them. 

Gracie McHenry: Is your attitude different?  Like, I know you said you stress out more [Graci: yes], but do you treat people differently at fair?

Graci Leonard: I will say that I try my best to maintain, a pretty good attitude… not many people know this… especially with, I show breeding beef heifers, and especially with them, any type of change in attitude or emotion, they can sense it, and they will, their attitude depends upon yours.  If you are upset, they’re going to be harder to work with.  If you’re happy, they’re gonna be happy right there with you.  They might give you a little hard time, but they’re generally going to be better if you’re in a good mood, and I’m pretty sure you can relate to that as well with pigs. 

Gracie McHenry: Oh yeah, with pigs... It’s pretty funny on days where I’m just having a good time with my sister and the pigs walk perfectly fine, maybe an upsy here or there, but they walk so good.  Now, where, if you’re having a bad day… it’s just not good.  They’ll start acting up, they’ll wanna be right up against you, trying to figure out what’s wrong with you.  So yeah, I understand that. Have you ever had to put one of your pigs down?

Graci Leonard: I have, sadly.

Gracie McHenry: People think it’s just easy, that it’s just like putting down, that it’s just like putting down bacon as most would call our pigs.  But, I don’t feel like it is.

Graci Leonard: I, I don’t either, cause I know people have to put down their pet animals all the time, um, but you grow such a strong bond for such a short amount of time you’re with it, it’s really hard to see it just kinda have to go.

Gracie McHenry: Yeah, I remember my first year of 4H, me and my cousin, Lane, um, we grew a really strong bond with the animal, with this pig.  His name was Spotty.  Such an original name, I know.  But he ended up, um, rupturing his bladder and he had to be put down.  And I remember, I was there when it all went down.  I was at Ohio State University’s vet, and I, I will tell you, getting, selling them at the end of the year, it isn’t even half the battle it is having to putting them down unexpectedly, especially to an injury.

Graci Leonard: ...It’s, it’s hard.  People think that just because it’s a farm animal that it’s 10x easier to put down, it’s really not.  In my opinion, it’s 10 times  harder of a decision and um, in reality, that’s a profit.

Gracie McHenry: Yeah, I know, um, we didn’t spend a lot for that barrow, but I had spent a lot of time with him.  And just like I do every other hog we’re with, and every steer or heifer you have, you have to make that hog, that heifer, that goat, it’s not just a piece of meat, it is gotta be your best friend or you’re never going to succeed in the show ring with it. 

I know when I have a rough day at school or me and my sister get into a fight or something in the family goes wrong, or maybe, even when my grandpa passed away… I know I have a tendency to go out in that barn and spend just hours sitting there either crying or just talking to the animal, because that’s my human best friend on four feet.

Graci Leonard and Gracie McHenry are sophomores at Northeastern High School in Clark County and part of the FFA program there.  This story was produced by Community Voices producer Anna Lurie
County Lines is supported by Ohio Humanities.