By Clint Thompson
University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
A Mitchell County 4-H’er and Pelham FFA member, Courtney Conine is one step closer to pursuing her dream career in livestock.
Conine, 15, of Camilla, Georgia, was recently chosen for Showpig.com’s All-Star Team. A student at Pelham High School, Conine was one of 18 high school students selected nationally. She is the only member of the all-star team from Georgia. The honor is bestowed on students within the swine industry who have a passion for agriculture, leadership and service learning.
“Not only is Courtney a leader in community service activities and youth agriculture, but she is also an awesome, young, Christian lady with high morals and outstanding character,” said Jennifer Grogan, University of Georgia Extension 4-H agent and Mitchell County Extension coordinator. “Courtney will be a great ambassador for Mitchell County and Georgia while serving as a member of the Showpig.com All-Star Team.”
Conine will travel to Romney, West Virginia, July 8-13 for a six-day leadership conference. She and other all-star students will learn advanced show ring and production skills from industry leaders while experiencing agricultural and livestock culture in West Virginia.
“This is a team I’ve been trying to get on for about two years, and I was so excited when I got selected,” Conine said.
A key to Conine’s success, which includes being awarded the 2015 Harry Lee Kemp Achievement Award in Mitchell County, is her ability to develop a rapport with the pigs she trains and shows at different competitive events in Georgia.
“Especially with your showmanship pig, you always want to have a bond. I guess that just comes with working (with the pig) every day. You’re together with your pig every day, so they get used to you,” Conine said. She trains her pigs in the wee hours of the morning and late at night.
“It was difficult at first, especially with me being so young. Sometimes you get a stubborn pig that doesn’t want to cooperate no matter how much you train them,” she said. “But you’ll get another that’s just a baby doll that’s really easy to train.”
While Conine has found her niche in livestock judging, it could soon be the career she studies and trains for in college. She aspires to study veterinary medicine and possibly pursue a career as a swine geneticist.
“Courtney pursues excellence and takes pride in her work, whether it be showing pigs, cooking a recipe for a 4-H competition or honing her livestock judging skills,” Grogan said. “As Courtney’s 4-H agent, it is easy for me to see her leadership abilities, her dedication and her determination; she is a hard worker. I always count on Courtney to complete her 4-H projects, and she has never disappointed me.”
Along with a passion for animals, Conine demonstrates a tremendous work ethic. She has barn chores, including cleaning pens and feeding her animals. Through years of feeding and caring for her animals, Conine has learned about nutrition in animals and financial responsibility.
“There’s a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to get out here and walk your pig every day, training them from when they’re really little to when they’re 280 pounds and ready to go to state (competition). You want to train them to hold their head up and walk and make sure they’re at a good pace and not going too fast. You want to present your animal to the judges the best you can,” Conine said.
While Conine’s unbridled passion for pigs and other animals has been evident her whole life, it wasn’t until she joined Georgia 4-H that Conine could showcase that love as a member of the Mitchell County Livestock Show Team.
“4-H has helped me so much. 4-H gave me the opportunity to actually show pigs for the first time. I have to brag on Miss Jennifer. She is one of the best people I’ve ever met. She’ll help me with anything. If there’s a clinic going on, she’ll make sure I’m there,” Conine said.
In addition to her Georgia 4-H activities, Conine is an active member of student council, Pelham FFA and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Pelham High School. She is also a part of the Camilla United Methodist Church youth group and Hopeful Baptist Church.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)