“I’ve done enough county fairs to realize you are lucky to find just one animal like these, but to have this many in a county fair is tremendous,” said 2016 Barton County Fair 4-H Sheep judge, John Herbel, of Lucas. “My thanks to the competitors because it makes it a lot more enjoyable to judge a competition like this.”
With that being said, Herbel awarded Grand Champion and Reserve to sheep belonging to Mattie Shafer, Ellinwood.
The Shafer family dominated the 4-H market lamb show with entries in every weight class. Mattie, a recent Ellinwood High School graduate, and her sister Katie have been showing sheep for 12 years now.
“I basically started showing lambs when I was six,” she said after receiving her ribbon and buckle at the winner’s staging area. By that time, her winning lamb was ready to go back to the safety of its pen, and wasn’t about to stand for more photos, so mom helped provide a calming influence.
“They are tough work,” Mattie said. “A lot of people don’t realize there is a lot more to raising them than simply throwing out feed and walking them around.”
Instead, it’s countless hours of mixing the right blends, prepping them for show day, and getting out there and working with them and exercising them, she added. They can be moody sometimes.
“They are a lot more work than any other species out in this barn,” she said. Mattie would know. Her family shows sheep, goats, hogs and cattle.
Sheep have personality, and it was on full display Friday morning. In fact, according to Barton County Agriculture Agent Alicia Boor, all the animals had been moody that morning, starting with the dairy cows, goats, and then the sheep. The cattle and pigs, too, had been exhibiting antsy behavior, though they would not be shown till later in the day.
Luckily, as the day drew on, clear skies emerged and whatever storm might have been building never materialized, making for a pleasant Friday fair experience.
Making of a champion
Many factors go into determining a grand champion lamb. Herbal checked for length of loin, firmness of muscle, build, how the animal walks, all of which will determine how it will finish out before it is ready to be sent to slaughter. But other factors are important too. How the animal handles in the pen, and as with any competition, looks are important too.
Matie learned to shear her own sheep, and owns her own clippers and blowers, She’s been doing it since she was 10 years old with her mother’s help. She follows the latest show styles, which today is a very close cropped body with longer wool on the legs, what is referred to as “boots.”
“I like to fluff out their boots and make them look very fluffy and big, which makes the animal look more masculine,” she said.
The Grand Champion was born in January, and is finished out at this time. Mattie says they will take him on to the State Fair.
Mattie and Katie learned all that they know about showing sheep from their mom. Amanda Shafer is an experienced show person herself. She started out showing sheep as a young 4-Her in Texas, and she has carried on the tradition with each of her children. Today, she is the superintendent of both the 4-H sheep and the goat programs for Barton County
“I’m very willing to mentor any young 4-her willing to get into the sheep project so we can build our sheep again,” she said. That includes not only her time, but the use of her equipment and other resources.
The program has grown smaller over the past couple of years, and Amanda’s believes the determining factor is the growth in the meat goat program. For some of the younger kids, goats are little easier to handle, and the project is a little easier. And while she understands, sheep are her first love, She offers parents tips, such as purchasing a younger lamb that will finish out at a lighter weight in time for fair when their children start out.
“There is a lot to be learned in the sheep project,” she said. “They are very fun, and very loving, and they definitely have personalities.”
Mattie and Katie have one more year of eligibility in the 4-H program, but it is unclear if they will take advantage, with one girl heading to Hays and the other to Colby next year for college, Amanda said, with a look any proud mom who has helped launch her children from the nest would understand.
She gained a lot from the program as a youth, she’s given back through her own children, and she’s not done yet.