Grand Ridge 8th grader Elizabeth Halling and her rabbits continued to “put Grand Ridge on the map,” as her mom says, at the Florida FFA Convention last week in Orlando. The 15-year-old came away from the 4,500-participant convention as a winner of the top “Proficiency Award,” statewide for “small animal production and care,” and as a finalist in the State Star Degree contest. Both recognitions are rare for 8th graders, or middle school students. They usually are reserved for the 9-12 high school students.
“They’ve never had a Star Discovery finalist from the 8th grade,” Anita Halling said at their Iowa Street home in Grand Ridge Saturday afternoon. “And she’s the first 8th-grader going to national competition with a Proficiency Award.” Elizabeth is going to the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., later this year, Anita said. The state FFA president and the state FFA secretary visited Elizabeth’s rabbitry behind the Grand Ridge FFA classrooms in May.
It was hoped that Halling would become the first state star degree winner from middle school but Anita says the Proficiency competition was just as tough. “The state star award is more elite, that’s true,” Anita said, “but the Proficiency requirements are harder. She had to produce a much thicker file for the Proficiency, including all records of her operations. The Star Degree is more FFA-related but the Proficiency requirements are all about production. It’s called SAE—supervised agriculture experience.” Halling’s Grand Ridge FFA instructor is Shauna Ferguson.
Elizabeth says she will not only continue to compete with her award-winning rabbit-breeding proficiency talents in future FFA competition, she will keep her rabbitry as a vocation. She actually sold 700 bunnies over the past year, she explained Saturday. Barn Nannies, a feed store in Grand Ridge, helped with marketing. She is fortunate in that she is able to maintain her rabbitry of about 59 rabbits on the campus of Grand Ridge School, located within walking distance from her residence. She also has a few animals at the residence. The rabbitry provides an exhibit often shown to the elementary students at Grand Ridge School. “Lots of kids want to buy a bunny so they can participate in the Panhandle Youth Expo event in Jackson County each October,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth explained that she does have to control the birth rate very carefully. A female rabbit can produce up to 30 bunnies per litter, she said, and 30 days after conception. Elizabeth, originally from the West Palm Beach area, got her start in agriculture with 4-H. She started raising rabbits in January of 2013. Elizabeth said that after high school, she is thinking about pursuing an agriculture-related degree at the University of Florida after she finishes two years at Chipola College.
Sneads High School State FFA winners/Orlando Convention:
- Orion Douthit, 1st Place Tractor Driving and State Star in Ag Placement finalist;
- Don Dowling, Diversified Crop Finalist Proficiency;
- Hailey McDaniel, Specialty Crop Finalist Proficiency, Courtesy Corps, OH Demo Marketing, Alumni Essay Winner;
- Mackenzie Davis, OH Demo Marketing;
- Shelby Johnson, Delaney Smith, Sam Rabon, Ag Comm 3rd Place;
- Madeline Wright, Prepared Public Speaking 4th Place;
- Hailey McDaniel, Shelby Johnson, Sam Rabon, Don Dowling, State Degrees;
- Sam Rabon, Shelby Johnson, Alexis Bohannon, Faith Douthit, Amber, Delaney Smith, Justin Lawrence, Mackenzie Davis, Katie Robbirds and Codi Nixon, Day of Service.
Grand Ridge FFA winners:
- Meg Alexander, 1st Place Prepared Public Speaking;
- Faith Hardin, 5th Place Extemporaneous Public Speaking;
- Elizabeth Halling, Small Animal Proficiency Winner, Finalist for Star Discovery Award;
- Collin Alford and Hunter Groomes, Day of Service;
- Tucker Dowling, Collin Alford and Dillon Arnold, Courtesy Corps;
- Dillon Arnold, Alumni Essay Finalist;
- Dylan Jackson, Taylor Reese Howell and Meg Alexander, Horse Judging Team--4th in State.
- More Jackson County winners will be published in next week’s Jackson County TIMES.
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