Connor Hayes will go out on top after a decade of raising and showing livestock at the Santa Barbara County Fair.
The longtime member of the Lompoc Valley 4-H club typically shows steer at the Fair but opted to try something new this year. The 82-pound goat named Nusu he brought as his show animal turned out to be his lucky ticket. On Thursday night he took Supreme Grand Champion — the highest honor — in the market goat category during the fair's 2019 Champion Drive.
"I've never brought it home," said Hayes, who will pursue a plant science degree from Reedley College in the fall. "It feels good to go out with a bang and leave on a good note."
Held in the auction barn in the southwestern corner of the Fairpark, the Champion Drive serves as the second-to-last stop for junior livestock exhibitors before Saturday morning's auction. Winners and runner ups — who are awarded Reserve Supreme Champion — take home banners and ribbons to commemorate the achievement. The livestock that garnered the title often fetch a higher price at auction.
"I was really nervous and excited at the same time," said Riley Ritchie, an Arroyo Grande High School student and member of the school's FFA. Tito, her 1,358-pound steer bred by the Teixeira Cattle Co., took Reserve Supreme Champion during Thursday's judging.
"It took a lot of time and commitment to this animal," Ritchie added. "I had to make sure he was my number one priority."
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She plans to hang the red banner — her first time win as a livestock exhibitor — above the bed in her room and will use some of the profits from Tito's sale to finance her project for next year.
St. Joseph High School senior Rachel Mendez grew up showing livestock, a practice she called central to her childhood. She won her first Supreme Grand Champion at nine years old, a feat she repeated this year with Nikki Sixx, her 124-pound lamb named after Mötley Crüe's bassist and co-founder.
"I've shown many lambs in my life, and he's probably my favorite lamb," she said, calling the creature sweet, loving and very easy to show. "He's a dream lamb to have."
Though she's a Nipomo 4-H club member, age limitations meant Mendez could only compete against other FFA students as an independent exhibitor.
"My legs were numb," Mendez said, recalling the moment judge Andrew Sloan announced her name over the intercom. "I was shaking, honestly. It took everything in me to not start crying out there."
Livestock events continue at the Fairpark on Friday with a sheep auction at 9 a.m. and a small livestock auction at noon. Gates will be open from noon to 10 p.m. daily, and events are scheduled to run every hour. Admission is $12 for children and adults 12 or older, $9 for youngsters 6 to 11, and free for tykes 5 or younger.