Soon we will be hitting the road to show our sheep. You heard all about the lambs being born this spring. They have grown, weaned and are now ready to show. But there is so much more involved than just loading them on the trailer and driving up the road…
- Training- halter breaking begins early when the lamb are small. We put a halter on them and lead them for a lap around the barn. They do not like it at first, fall down, roll on the ground, and cry. But soon they are walking well. This makes showing and loading so much easier.
- Shearing- Sheep grow wool, which is our second most lucrative crop. We shear all the sheep in May and sell most of the wool to the TN Sheep Producers Wool Pool. This pool is the longest running agricultural coop in the country. Each June TN Sheep Producers association sponsors the wool pool, held in east and central TN. Producers bring their sheared wool to be weighed, sorted and baled. We are paid a predetermined amount based on a bid from our buyer. Like good farmers, we all work together to get the wool processed. And all who work for the day get lunch!
- Fitting- the show sheep get special treatment to make their wool look exceptional for the show ring. They are sheared, but left with a bit more than the brood ewes. About a week before the show they are washed (using Woolite) and towel dried. Then the fitting begins. The wool is carded and clipped. Carded and clipped. Carded and clipped. This can take several hours! When completed, they don a sheep blanket to stay clean.
- Loading the trailer- There is so much to take to the show! First for the sheep: bedding, feed (hay and grain), water buckets, trimming stands, fitting tools, shears, extension cord, feel dishes, medicine box (just in case), registration papers and health certificates, extra: halters, blankets, towels, etc. For the people: hotel reservation, work clothes including rubber boots or crocs, water bottles, personal care items, ice chest with food and cold drinks, show clothes and boots, swim suit and towel. And we are ready to go.
- Unloading the trailer- when we arrive at the show arena, we determine where our sheep are to be penned and begin unloading. As season progresses we become very adept at the loading/ unloading process with each of us having our specialty. Bedding must be put down in the pens before the sheep are unloaded. We try to get the sheep off the trailer as soon as possible because of the heat. Then we bring in the feed and equipment. Most things are pretty heavy (feed comes in 50#bags) so this is hot, hard work. Finally I park the trailer. If we are staying more than 1 day I must unhook the trailer so we can drive the truck.
- Living at the Sheep Show-Now we move in. After the water buckets are filled and the sheep given a snack of hay, we settle in the get the work done. I will search out the show official to complete paperwork. This included checking registration papers, entry forms and paying fees. The TN State Vet will come to our pen to inspect our sheep for illness and verify we have our Certifice of Veterinary Inspection. Meanwhile, the kids set up their trimming stands and begin again carding and clipping. They also will visit with friends, help other exhibitors unload sheep and check out schedule of the show.
- Show time!- The moment we all have been waiting for: Cheviot Show. We halter all the sheep and walk to the show area. There we tie up the sheep and prepare to show. Each show has a different order- rams first, ewes first, oldest first, youngest first… When each class is called we unhalter and take into the ring the appropriate sheep. They are evaluated by the judge and placed in order of placing. Ribbons are awarded and the judge will give the merits of each entry. Then the sheep are returned to the rail and the next class brought in. This continues until all sheep have had their turn in the ring. At the end the grand champion is chosen. The winners of each age class are brought back into the ring to be evaluated one more time and the best is determined to be the Grand Champion, with the 2nd best Reserve Grand Champion. And that is it. The blankets are put back on and the sheep returned to their pen. They are rewarded with feed and the kids get a cool drink.
- After the show- when our breed class is finished, we often assist other exhibitors showing their sheep. If you have 2 sheep of the same age (in the same class) you need help. So even though our sheep are back in their pen, the kids will likely be showing most of the day. It is easier to show others sheep because the fitting is already done and you probably will not have to show in every class, but it is still hard, hot work.
- After the show concludes- if this is a one day show, we load everything back into the trailer and drive home. At home we unload the sheep and supplies. If the show is over several days, we feed and water the sheep, clean up our work area and head to our hotel.
All that work for about 30 minutes in the show ring. Is it worth all the effort? Yes for many reasons. Most shows pay premiums- prize money for entries. This money is what the kids use to pay for sheep and supplies, and college. The 4-H shows give prizes of equipment and college scholarships. But the biggest reward is what the kids learn. As the UT Extension Agent told me when we started showing sheep, “It is all about raising kids and showing sheep is one way we do it.” It is all about the kids! They do all the work they are capable of doing and learn along the way. As they have progressed through the years, their skill level has increased as has their knowledge of the industry. They are respected as showman and asked to help other exhibitors with their entries. They represent their peers at the local, state and national levels in the sheep and agricultural industry.
Next time you go to the fair, take a minute and observe the animal exhibitors. Think about all it took to get their animals to the fair grounds. They may be sitting ( or sleeping) near their pens, because they are taking a short break from all the work. Feel free to visit and take pictures. We are proud of our animals and would love to share with you.