Several years ago, a friend who is also in the commercial sheep business (and who also has school-age children), asked if we let our daughters show sheep at our county fair. As a commercial producer, she was concerned with a perceived overemphasis on physical appearance over product quality and economic profitability (concerns that I share as well). In many ways, the sheep show at our county fair (and others around the country) focuses too much on winning a beauty contest, but I told my friend that I felt the positive aspects of showing at the fair far outweighed the negatives. As I look back at our recently concluded Gold Country Fair in Auburn, I’m even more convinced that junior livestock shows are incredibly valuable teaching tools. With the right guidance from leaders and teachers – and the right emphasis from parents – junior livestock shows teach young people how to present themselves and their animals. Fair livestock projects teach kids the value of hard work and cooperation with others.
Both of our daughters have shown sheep at the county fair since they were old enough to be in 4-H (9 years old). With our oldest daughter, Lara, starting her freshman year at Montana State University, this was Emma’s first fair without the guidance of her older sister. Both girls used the profits from their first l
ambs to invest in their own breeding projects; this year, Emma took a market lamb, a crossbred ewe lamb and a purebred Shropshire ram lamb to the Gold Country Fair.
As Lara grew up, she became a very accomplished sheep exhibitor. Her lambs were nearly always competitive, and (more importantly in my mind) she became an excellent showman. She won sheep showmanship twice – once in 4-H and once in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) contest. She also went on to win 4-H Master Showmanship (a contest where exhibitors must show all species of livestock – sheep, beef cattle, dairy goats, meat goats and hogs). As far as Emma was concerned, her older sister cast a pretty big shadow – I think Emma always felt like Lara set a high standard.
This year has been different from the outset. Since Lara knew she wouldn’t be here for our fair, she didn’t raise any lambs. Furthermore, Emma’s two breeding ewes gave birth to two ram lambs and a ewe lamb. Emma selected the best ram lamb (which she made into a wether – a castrated male) for her market lamb. She also let me talk her into showing one of our Shropshire ram lambs. And she did all of the work – feeding, shearing, training, etc. – with minimal help from her parents. She set a financial goal for her project – she wanted to use the profit from this year’s lamb to help fund a school trip to Washington DC next summer.
Because of her hard work and focus this summer, Sami and I had an inkling that this fair might be different for Emma. When she walked into her showmanship class last Friday morning, we had no doubt! One of Lara’s FFA advisors commented, “Wow – Emma has that Macon intensity about her – just like her sister only more so!” Another parent told me after the show, “It was like Emma and then everyone else – she was amazing!” Needless to say, she won junior 4-H showmanship! The rest of the show was also successful – first in her market class (which meant she got to compete for grand champion – she ended up fifth overall). Her lamb was the top “bred and fed by the exhibitor” lamb in the show. Her breeding animals competed well. And thanks to the generosity of our community, she earned enough profit on her projects to fund her trip to DC (a big thanks, especially, to David Kee and Associates CPAs for buying her lamb). At the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, Emma earned the high-point sheep exhibitor award in recognition of her success.
Emma’s fair experience this year culminated with the master showmanship competition. She ended up second, but her intensity and attitude impressed Sami and I tremendously. In master showmanship, exhibitors don’t get to show their own animals; Emma had to show someone else’s lamb. The lamb obviously had not been worked with as much as Emma’s sheep – and it got away from Emma. Lara’s little sister would have broken down crying; this new, grown-up Emma simply took a deep breath, caught the lamb, and continued to show it (and show it well). A good showman can make a poor animal look good; master showmanship demonstrated without a doubt that Emma is a great showman.
At their worst, junior livestock shows have all of the pettiness of the worst of youth sports (in both cases, I think, this is largely because of the adults involved). At their best, county fairs teach our kids important skills. As a parent, watching my youngest daughter step into her own as a young woman and as a livestock producer was a very proud moment! Way to go, Emma!