Houston bound: Teen welder to take her livestock feeder to world’s biggest stock show

Carson Esker Dugger works on one of her welding projects. The Valley View FFA member will be competing in ag mechanics at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo later this month.

Carson Esker Dugger is Houston-bound this month. After winning overall grand champion showmanship honors at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo in early February, the Valley View High School FFA student is taking her ag mechanics project to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 20.

“I’m on a roll,” she said by phone this week.

Esker Dugger, 16, welded an adjustable livestock feeder for her FFA ag mechanics project this year, placing first in her class at the 2021 Cooke County Junior Livestock Show shop competition this January before getting showmanship honors in San Angelo. It’s her third welding project, but it’ll be her first time showing in Houston at the world’s largest livestock exhibition and rodeo.

Ag mechanics shows are made up of welding and wood shop projects as well as tractor and farm equipment restorations carried out by FFA members. Esker Dugger first showed an aluminum diamond plate pig feeder two years ago. Then last year, she fabricated a digital livestock scale to bring home her first belt buckle as the grand champion showmanship winner in ag mechanics at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. She won overall grand champion showmanship at last year’s Waco Heart O’Texas Livestock Show ag mechanics competition, as well.

Esker Dugger first learned to weld as a 9-year-old carrying out a labor of love for her mom. “I showed my ag teacher and he said, oh those are some pretty good welds. Maybe you should do ag mechanics,” she recalled.

Valley View FFA adviser Billy Dusenberry said Esker Dugger is one of two girls in his program who compete in ag mechanics with welding projects. The other is Kaitlyn Evans. Dusenberry said he’s seen Esker Dugger’s confidence grow throughout her FFA career.

He suggested other students would benefit from FFA participation, too.

“It’s all about what the kid wants to achieve and what they want to do,” he said. If a student wants to learn to weld, that’s great, but it’s not the only way to get involved, he said.

Esker Dugger has been in FFA since third grade, she said. She credits the program for helping her become more confident as a public speaker despite a dyslexia diagnosis which affects her speech and writing. Spending five to 12 hours standing next to her project and talking about it to judges and members of the public will do that, she explained – and that’s what showmanship contests often entail.

“I’ve learned that I have to work really hard for what I want,” Esker Dugger said. FFA “teaches you responsibilities, my dedication to my project. I have to spend lots of hours working and getting my project ready. It’s not just about welding.”

While Esker Dugger once considered a career in welding, she’s since changed her mind and hopes to become a game warden. But she’s still intending to make something even bigger and better for next year.

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