Gervais High School junior Josiah Pierce entered 2017 as a relative rookie in the world of animal science, but after six months and more than 500 hours of work, he'll leave as a Grand Champion.
Pierce received the top honor at the Marion County Fair on Thursday, garnering Overall Goat Market Champion as a member of the Gervais FFA program.
Hundreds of student farmers from across the county descended on the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem for the annual county fair, including dozens of contenders vying for the top prize in the goat competition. But it was the Gervais FFA program's junior reporter that ended up taking home the coveted purple champion ribbon — an incredible honor that Pierce didn't quite fully comprehend at the moment when he won.
"He didn't realize what an honor it was," Gervais FFA adviser Megan Dilson said after the event. "It means that you have the best of the best of that show. He had the best goat and he also was the best at showing her."
After a number of supporters continued to congratulate him throughout the weekend and the news spread among friends and family on social media, the gravity of the honor finally sank in.
"I was like, 'No, you don't understand. This is a big deal,'" Dilson said. "He had no idea."
That's because Pierce had no formal background in farming and agriculture when he joined the FFA program, but that didn't stop him from pouring every ounce of effort into raising his Boer cross-breed goat Bertha throughout the spring. Leading up to the summer, Pierce attended a clinic on how to show and present the goat during the fair and spent mornings and evenings at Bertha's stable in the fields behind Gervais High School — feeding her, grooming her, training her.
Pierce raised Bertha from just a few weeks old to her final show weight of 78 pounds, and when it came time for him to show her late Thursday morning, the competition judge had nothing but positives to say.
"I think she is just really stunning on the side," the judge said as Pierce held Bertha still with a leash taut around her neck to elongate her profile. "As far as that attractive package, the way that she comes out of her chest and comes out of her neck — (she) is sure going to take a pretty picture and I think this young man has done a very nice job."
The title of Overall Goat Market Champion is not just an honorary award — it comes with very important financial considerations as well. After the animals are presented and the awards are given out, buyers line up to purchase the animals in the livestock auction throughout the day on Saturday.
As buyers make their purchases, money and demand steadily dries up, meaning the first shown animals typically go for the most money.
As Overall Goat Market Champion, Bertha was the first goat to be shown on Saturday, and she was sold for $35 a pound, netting Pierce upwards of $3,000 for all the time and effort he put into raising her. Pierce gets to keep the profit while investing a portion into purchasing a goat for next year's Marion County Fair.
Of course Pierce was not alone in his day at the fair. He was surrounded by his colleagues in the Gervais FFA program, each of whom were busy working and showing their own animals with great results. Kiley Heard won Champion Dairy Goat and Goat Reserve Champion. FFA President Ali Cullett placed second in her lamb class. Richie Luna garnered third place in swine class and fourth in class for swine showmanship, while FFA secretary Alexis Luna placed fifth in her swine class.
Overall it was a strong day for the Gervais FFA program as the student-farmers prepare to enter the 2017-18 school year and all the work that will go into next year's program.
"They had a really good year in all aspects — our swine, our goats, everything," Dilson said. "Gervais rocked it."