To the cheers and applause of local cattlemen, ranchers and industry professionals, two northern Santa Barbara County high school students took top honors during the County Fair's market steer judging.
Righetti FFA member Kayla Minetti and Lompoc FFA member Andrew Cordova were named grand champion and reserve champion, respectively, during Wednesday morning's competition at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
"I'm excited but nervous at the same time," said Minetti, who will advance to Thursday's Championship Drive with Tigger, her 1,294-pound steer. Her goat took supreme champion during last year's championship drive.
Judge Laramie Priest, of Lorena, Texas, called Tigger "ultra complete," adding that the steer was not just well-shaped, but exhibited no big holes when studying the cattle from every angle.
"Hard work is the secret to raising a good steer," she said. "You have to be determined and into it to successfully raise one."
For Minetti, raising a steer was often a five hours per day commitment. In addition to preparing his twice-daily meals of grain and supplements, she rinsed and blow-dried Tigger three times a day.
"I'm feeling good about the Championship Drive," she said, "but whatever happens, I'm still happy about how I did today."
Like Minetti, Cordova and his reserve champion cattle will advance to the Championship Drive. The steer, which was purchased from the Teixeira Cattle Company, also took first in the locally bred competition.
"The show gets better every year," local cattleman Fred Hayes said of the competition quality. "We could compete in the state right now with where [the steers] are at."
Though Robert Hobbs and his steer, Hyde, took first in their class, the pair will not advance to the Championship Drive. The 17-month-old purebred shorthorn was praised for his long body and neck during the class judging, but a larger and leaner steer eclipsed him during breed evaluation.
"My steer wasn't as finished as other steers in the drive," Hobbs said after the competition. "If I had another month on feed, I would have done better."
He has already begun planning for next year's steer, armed with the knowledge he gained from raising Hyde.
"I did as much as I could for my steer to get him to where he was," Hobbs said. "He was almost finished out. I won my class and got a first-place ribbon. I feel happy with how I did."