A rural community south of Corsicana with one of the prouder agriculture-science programs in the state had more than a dozen show animals killed by wild dogs.
Thanks to a group of Waxahachie FFA supporters, those students shed a few happy tears and shared quite a few more smiles on Wednesday evening.
Coolidge FFA students were understandably devastated after 15 animals — nine hogs, five goats and one lamb — destined for the show ring were slain by wild dogs on two different occasions in November.
The most recent attack came sometime after nightfall and before Thanksgiving morning. It was then that the students lost all nine hogs.
Coolidge ISD Superintendent Dr. Robert Lowry explained the pack of dogs "dug under two fences" to reach the livestock.
Some of the students had saved their own money and purchased one, or even two show animals. They then had to struggle with the idea of needing to acquire the funds to replace the animals — let alone entertain the thought of finding one that was as far along development-wise as the animals they had already invested several weeks into raising.
Most families in Coolidge also have several students involved in the local FFA chapter and, with it being Christmas time, were already strapped for cash.
Kimberly Vargas is in her first year as the Coolidge FFA advisor after graduating from Texas A&M University. She explained that her teaching instincts told her to attempt to turn the situation into an educational and positive experience so the students could grow from it.
However, the loss was real. The first-year teacher was placed square in the middle of a situation no textbook could predict.
She noted some of the kids used earnings from previous shows to purchase new livestock for the year.
“Especially the kids that did use their own money, it was devastating for them when they woke up on Thanksgiving morning and walked out to the barn to see they didn’t have an animal out there. Some kids even lost multiple animals,” she added. “[...] It hit some families harder than others, but it’s a hard loss no matter what."
Christian Martinez is an eighth-grade Coolidge student who has dedicated three years to the FFA. He was one of those that used his own money from a previous sale to purchase this year's project — a powerful, dark-brown coated Duroc pig.
When he learned that his hog was one of the nine killed by the dogs, he thought, “I don’t think we are going to be able to show this year. I thought it was over.”
That all changed Wednesday evening.
It was then that Waxahachie FFA advisor James Glenn, Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees vice president Clay Schoolfield and board president Dusty Autrey rolled into Coolidge with a trailer full of 11 hogs.
One-by-one names were drawn from a hat, and Martinez was first to choose. A nice Hampshire caught his eye.
“It felt really good that we had someone who wanted to donate pigs to us so we could get back up on our feet in time to show at the county show this March," Martinez expressed. "I was very excited."
Vargas shared with her students that this experience is what the agriculture community is all about.
“It’s a very humbling thing to be a part of when you see a tragedy bring people together. I think the kids learned a lot out of this,” she added. “[...] That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."
To pull off the modern-day agricultural miracle, Glenn rounded up a few pigs from his personal hog farm, as well as another resource that sold the additional animals at a significantly lower price than usual.
Glenn shared that a show hog can typically run a kid anywhere from $200 — $450.
He also noted that it was important for the Coolidge FFA students to have a variety of pigs to choose from, which is why the group loaded up a few Durocs, crosses, Yorkshires and one Chester before leaving Waxahachie. It was also vital that more than nine pigs be available so that the last student would not be stuck with the lone hog left, ensuring each kid had an option.
“They were really thankful," Glenn said. "Every single one of them came up to us and said, ‘thank you’ afterward, and I gave them some advice and told them they could reach out to us if they needed anything."
Schoolfield added, “It’s nice to be able to see kids move forward with their projects."
Schoolfield has a son in the WHS FFA and daughter is in the junior FFA. He himself also participated in FFA in his younger days.
Schoolfield explained that he helped communicate with the Coolidge ISD superintendent while Glenn got the pigs together. Schoolfield and Lowry have fostered a friendship over the past 25 years since they own adjacent land in the rural town of less than a 1,000 people.
“I just want to make sure these guys are recognized for taking the time away from their families, driving down here an hour to bring the pigs,” Lowry said.
As of Thursday, the students were adequately supplied with livestock with enough time to prepare for the Limestone County show in March, which marks the first competition of the spring show season.
Coolidge ISD along with supportive parents has even gone through recent lengths to secure the barn. Lowry said the barn is closed at the moment and will undergo about $10,000 into renovations to keep livestock safe.
“It was nice to be able to help because those projects are hard to come by," Schoolfield said. "We all need help time to time, and you never know when that need might arise."
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450