WESLEY CHAPEL — Every now and then, worming goats to rid them of parasites requires a little improvising and a little math.
Students in the agriculture program at Wesley Chapel High are amenable to both. They stood ready when they learned the school’s four goats needed to be weighed to make sure they received the right dose of de-worming medication.
“This is going to be tricky because we don’t have a livestock scale,” agriculture teacher Erin Farquhar said as she and the students headed outdoors to the enclosure that holds the goats — Bucky, Llama, Snow and Oreo.
That’s where the improvising came in. Farquhar brought a bathroom scale from home. Students would weigh themselves. Then they would weigh themselves again, but this time while holding a goat.
Then it was time to work the math.
The results: Bucky, 41.6 pounds; Llama, 38 pounds; Snow, 36.7 pounds; and Oreo, 46.2 pounds.
The well-socialized goats have plenty of students to interact with these days because the Wesley Chapel High agriculture program, now in its second year, is experiencing growth. About 150 students are enrolled in one of Farquhar’s classes, up from 87 last year. Also, the school’s FFA chapter has 56 members, more than double the 25 who were in the organization in 2012-13.
For Farquhar, the most significant difference is that Wesley Chapel High needs her full time now. Last year, she split her teaching duties between the high school and Irvin Education Center in Dade City.
The still fledgling program is starting to develop some bragging rights, too. The ornamental-horticulture demonstration team won first place at a state competition, and the group came in fourth in the state for dairy judging, “which is amazing since some of the schools we were competing against have had agriculture programs for 100 years,” Farquhar said.
Although Wesley Chapel High is new to these things, the Pasco County school district isn’t. Some schools have well-established programs, such as Zephyrhills High and Pasco High in Dade City.
Farquhar, who taught special-education students before switching to agriculture last year, called on experienced teachers for advice as she began to build her program from scratch.
It was especially helpful to have Weightman Middle School’s program next door. Many of Farquhar’s students developed their interest in agriculture in their middle school days, raising sheep, cattle, hogs and other animals to show at the county and state fairs.
“This is my fourth year raising steers,” said Spencer Brass, 15, a sophomore and vice president of the FFA chapter. “I got involved in seventh-grade.”
Brass, who wants to become a state or national officer in FFA, brings some entrepreneurial spirit to his agriculture interest. He plans to start a breeding program at home to produce club calves to sell to students who want to raise the animals to show at fairs.
He also would like to attend the University of Florida and study to become a veterinarian.
So would 17-year-old Helena Polansky, a senior who is president of the FFA chapter.
Lacking the local agriculture option when she was a freshman, Polansky used school choice to attend Pasco High her first two years of high school. She was ecstatic when Wesley Chapel High added its program in 2012 and she quickly switched to her zoned school for her junior year.
“Finally, an ag program close to my house so my mom doesn’t have to drive to Dade City to pick me up,” Polansky said.
In addition to the four goats, the school has three rabbits and a pig. Six of the students are raising steers, which are housed at Weightman Middle’s barn since the high school doesn’t have its own barn.
The program also picked up a couple of bonus animals, two guinea pigs named Babe and Ruth who are owned by 15-year-old sophomore Amber Maxwell. Babe and Ruth are kept in a cage in the classroom and all the students help with their care.
Maxwell, who has raised sheep and hogs, considered becoming a veterinarian, but now leans toward a career as a doctor for humans.
Even without the career aspirations, Maxwell said the agriculture program is beneficial.
“It’s definitely helped a lot with leadership (skills) and getting along with people,” she said.