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Salem FFA 'gets the goat'

SALEM--This will really get your goat. A group of McCook Central High School FFA students spent most of Wednesday morning touring Salem, but they didn't go alone--they brought along two goats, as part of their "Get the Goat" fundraiser. The amoun...

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McCook Central senior Anne Mayrose, left, reacts after she got some goat hair in her mouth while she and senior Cara Rabenhorst load the goat -- which the students nicknamed "Gilbert" -- into a kennel. McCook Central FFA students took two goats to various business in Salem on Wednesday morning for their "Get the Goat" fundraiser as part of the McCook Central's FFA activities during National FFA Week. (Matt Gade/Republic)

SALEM-This will really get your goat.

A group of McCook Central High School FFA students spent most of Wednesday morning touring Salem, but they didn't go alone-they brought along two goats, as part of their "Get the Goat" fundraiser. The amount raised wasn't immediately available Wednesday.

On Wednesday, FFA members also had a special guest tour the town with them and the goats. Dr. Steve Brown, the National FFA adviser and chair of the National FFA Board of Directors, is in South Dakota this week in honor of National FFA Week. Brown, based in Washington, D.C., said he visits a different state each year, going where the National Association of Agricultural Educators is based. This year's president is McCook Central FFA Adviser Terry Rieckman, which brought Brown to South Dakota, and to Salem. Assistant Adviser for the chapter is Tracy Chase.

"I'm just here to learn and listen what the outstanding activities and events are and the things they do in agriculture education throughout the state," Brown said.

He started in Rapid City at the beginning of the week, and, after new stops each day, will end the week in Sioux Falls. He was joined Wednesday morning in Salem by Jordanne Howe, the 2015-16 South Dakota state FFA president. They both described the McCook Central chapter's "Get the Goat" fundraiser as unique and "a little bit of fun."

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"I've heard of it," Brown said. "I don't see it very often."

But, it's nothing new for McCook Central or Salem residents. Julia Loudenburg, McCook Central FFA chapter reporter, said each year, the chapter picks a different animal and title-"Pass the Pig," "Grab the Goose" or last year's "Ship the Sheep"-and takes that animal around town. People can buy insurance to keep the animal from visiting; if they don't, and the animal shows up, they have to pay $5 to send it on, with the chance it could return. If they pay $25, it sends the animal away permanently.

Jeremy Grady, president of First Dakota National Bank in Salem, said he deliberately doesn't pay the insurance beforehand so the students and animals can visit. And, they always do.

"Every year," he said with a smile. "And we actually look forward to it."

This year, McCook Central FFA students had two Himalayan Dwarf goats to take around town, which they split between the boys and girls. The girls nicknamed their goat "Gilbert," a small, black-and-tan male, and started with stops in the elementary school.

Gilbert first visited Mary Skoglund's kindergarten class-then promptly went to the bathroom. Unfazed, Skoglund had her students help clean up the pea-sized pellets, then the excited students sat in a circle around Gilbert to learn what goats eat, what colors they can be and how big they get.

Gilbert, not quite ready for his closeup at first, soon warmed to the attention, standing quietly so the swarm of students could pet him and scratch his "beard." Teachers also took group photos, and several people snapped selfies and contributed to the #FFAweek hashtag on Twitter. After visiting a few more classes-and relieving himself a few more times-Gilbert and company hit the streets of Salem.

While several people commented on the smell-both goats were billy, or buck, (male) goats, which typically carry a distinct, pungent scent-most people also said they enjoy this time of year, and seeing the FFA students. They also enjoy sending the animal to other people in town.

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From First Dakota National Bank, Gilbert and company traveled to Service First Federal Credit Union, which branch manager Kris Larson received with a smile.

"I thought about sending it back to them," Larson said of First Dakota National Bank, but admitted she expected the goat to make an appearance since she elected not to buy insurance this year. Larson, who grew up on a farm, said her children were involved in FFA, and she always enjoys the National FFA Week activities-even the animals in her business.

"It's a fun time of the year," she said.

The attitude is indicative of the strong support FFA receives from the community, according to McCook Central senior Anne Mayrose, president of the school's FFA chapter. Mayrose, 18, lives in Salem, and said some people are wary of the "Get the Goat" fundraiser and its different iterations, but they usually warm up to it. She said FFA is one of the biggest organizations at McCook Central, which means most people are ready to support FFA and its activities.

"Our community is always really great about coming together and supporting FFA," she said. "It's really awesome."

Howe, a Redfield native and South Dakota State University student, said National FFA Week also gives her a chance to spread the word about FFA. While the national organization is growing (there were 629,367 FFA members nationwide in 2014-15, up from 610,240 members in 2013-14, according to ffa.org), Howe said South Dakota saw a loss in FFA membership last year. According to ffa.org, there were 4,041 FFA members in the state in 2014-15, down from the 4,128 reported in 2013-14, which members are working to regain. Educating youth on where their food and food products come from and teaching life skills are both important functions of FFA, according to Howe.

"We feel that kids need to know where their food comes from. Because a lot of kids don't know," she said. "So that's a really neat opportunity, just educating them on the importance of agriculture and the impact that FFA can have on your life. Because FFA isn't just about agriculture, it's about learning life skills that you can use within your everyday life."

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Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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