by Tara Bone, contributing writer
My father was a dairy farmer in Cache Valley. From an early age, I learned that animals don’t take breaks for Christmas, family vacations or just because you’re tired. It’s 24/7. So when my husband announced that we were building a barn and raising lambs for the Cache County Fair, I panicked. Last year I went along with raising chicks to build work ethic in our three boys. We ended up with two chicken coops, one surprise rooster and a skunk attack that turned our world into a gun-totting episode of Duck Dynasty. You understand my fear. I tried to explain the whole 24/7 thing too, but building work ethic won again. Here are a few things we learned on our lamb journey.
Lesson One: Find and Follow a Great 4-H Leader
Fortunately we found one. She walked us through each step, from buying our lambs to showing them at the fair. When we bought six halters because we couldn’t find the right one, when the lambs needed to be sheered (yikes!) and when I started asking myself what we were doing, she was there to reassure me that, “it’s a good thing we’re raising men and just not lambs.” The Cache County Extension Office staff is also very helpful. Their office is the place to start for any family beginning their 4-H journey.
Lesson Two: Prepare
In May, we picked up our two lambs, affectionately named Ewegina and Shauna (note, I wouldn’t recommend naming them, we got very attached). Then the excitement began. There were 4-H meetings where kids learn about the animals and make presentations to each other. There was feeding and watering everyday, including days the kids didn’t want to do it. On those days my motto was, “If you want breakfast, feed the lambs first.” There were occasional sheep escapes, grooming (those sheep got more haircuts than I did all summer), and then there were learning how to show. Here lies the surprise: Sheep showing is competitive! You must train and walk your lambs often, and there are certain ways to stand, hold your lamb and look the judge in the eye. When you’ve prepared for the fair, as our fearless 4-H leader says, there’s nothing like the excitement of show time. It is exciting, intense and inspiring. Some of the 18-year-old showmen had been showing lambs for 10 years since they were first eligible to show. We spent Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday at the fair and became part of a community of dedicated youth and adults.
Lesson Three: We Live in a Wonderful Place
After the dust settled and the ribbons were handed out, came the Cache County Junior Livestock Auction. Rapid-fire calls from the fast-talking auctioneer, hundreds of potential buyers and nervous parents gathered, and, in the center of it all, was a small, circular corral where each youth stood alone with their animal and hopes for a buyer. For many this was their summer job and their fate was in the hands of local businesspeople, ranchers and other buyers. This year 382 youth stood in the auction ring, and time and time again local businesses or individuals stepped forward collectively spending just shy of $408,000 to support Cache Valley’s youth. We live in a generous community.
Lesson Four: The Takeaway
As my 11-year-old and I waited for his turn at the auction, we got emotional. The inevitability that Ewegina was most likely going to be harvested and end up on someone’s dinner table was tough. I’ve known about the cycle of life since I asked my dad what happened to my cow, Debbie. There’s controversy surrounding the use of animals for food that I won’t debate here, but in that moment I wondered if we’d do this all again, and I thought, “Yes, we will.” My son had learned to love another creature, had been responsible for another life for 81 days and had watched her flourish under his care. He learned patience when he first started walking her and she bucked and bolted. Both of my sons learned how to make eye contact, and I was so proud of them when they showed with confidence. They worked hard and accomplished something hard. Little Ewegina helped me take steps toward raising men. It turned out that Ewegina and Shauna were purchased by a man who wanted them for his flock and we see them on our way home in the pasture.
So here’s the takeaway: Parenting is a 24/7 job, and I gratefully take all the help I can get.
If you are interested in the Cache County 4-H program contact Laura Jones at the Cache County Extension (435.752.6263) or visit the program: www.extension.usu.edu/cache/
ABOUT FAMILY FIRSTS
There are lots of firsts in life. First step, first day of school, first job and the first family flop: The great family vacation that turned into a nightmare or the investment that was supposed to teach the kids important life lessons. There are success stories that are parent-of-the-year material, but there are also epic fails. Don’t we wish someone would tell us what pitfalls to avoid? So here it is, the tales of one family’s adventures.