By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Seventeen-year-old John Pineda climbed on stage Saturday, nervously glancing at a crowd of hundreds and clutching his large roaster chicken firmly in two hands while it flapped its wings.
"He's really huge," Pineda remarked about his animal just before climbing in the auctioneer's ring. "I fed him a lot of food."
The Troy High School junior and Future Farmers of America member was one of nearly 200 teens participating in a live auction that closed out the 2012 Bell County Youth Fair at the Bell County Expo Center. The event featured more than 1,100 participants representing local FFA and 4-H clubs in a variety of categories.
Pineda was the first participant to take the stage in the auction. His prized roaster netted $1,700, a hefty price tag for a barnyard animal. The teenager said businesses and area booster clubs place big bets to show support.
After three years, 2012 marked the first time Pineda nabbed a grand champion prize for his efforts. He explained how, with more than 150 different breeds, there are many things about the birds that people might not know.
"The females grow out their feathers more than the males do," said Pineda. "The males grow out their combs more."
The teenager said he hopes to become a robotics engineer, but participating in FFA was a valuable way to get involved with his community. "I do this for fun," he said.
Pineda's mother, Linda Martinez, said participation in FFA teaches her son responsibility and helps him grow socially.
"He has a big heart, so he puts that into whatever he does," she said of his work with the animals.
For 15-year-old Matthew Wilde, FFA member and Rogers High School freshman, rabbits are a family business. His grandfather and cousins have all raised prize-winning rabbits like the ones he showed Saturday.
Wilde earned a grand champion prize for his three animals and explained what makes a rabbit prize-worthy: Judges look at how strong a rabbit is and the softness of the fur.
"They all have to have very good condition," he said. "The first step is always a good quality feed."
Rabbits should look as much like one another as possible. "If you can get three twins, that would be the best thing," he said.
Wilde's rabbit fetched $1,600 - money the teenager said will go toward college and to fund future agriculture projects.
"Elvis" also made an appearance at the auction.
The grand champion goat stood quietly with owner, Macauley May, 17, on the auction stage. The junior at Little River-Academy, smiled politely as the auctioneer shouted off bids from the crowd.
"It's very fun," she said of the auction. "(Goats) are easy to show, and they have their own little personalities."
Elvis went for $25 per pound, with a resale value listed at $156.80 per pound.
But the auction wasn't just about livestock. A variety of cakes, cookies and candy also were featured. 4-H member Allison Janke's pineapple and chiffon cake, a grand champion prize winner at the fair, earned $2,000 for the Holland teenager.
"You get to meet a lot of people," said Janke of why she enjoys being part of the 4-H club.
As for the reason her cake won such a big prize and earned so much money, the teenager had a simple answer: "Because it's just so good."
Contact Rebecca Rose firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.