In the baa-ginning...
Spring's the time to have a go - at getting involved in the Morgan County 4-H showing season
by Tara Derock Mahoney
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
“Mares eat oats and does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy
A kid’ll eat ivy, too—wouldn’t you?”
Morgan County 4-H students might not know old chestnuts, but they do know what baby lambs and goats eat these days.
Spring is the traditional start of lamb-and-goat showing season in the county, and each year upwards of a dozen kids feed and train the small animals in preparation for a number of competitive events at the local and state level.
The animals are raised and trained—not to do tricks, but to show well—by the students.
“Showing lambs and goats develops a sense of responsibility in the kids,” said Janet Woodard, the county’s 4-H agent. “The kids have to take care of the animal, feed it and train it.”
“You have to walk them, shear them, clip their feet,” said Liam Tewksbury, a veteran 4-H showman at age 10. Liam plans to show at least two lambs—tentatively named “Wildfire” and “Jack”—this season, lambs that were born early this year to ewes that he showed as lambs in the past. “I’ll wait until they get a little bigger, then I’ll work with them every day, or try to,” said Liam. Liam’s eight-year-old sister, Lilea, will also show a lamb this year; older brother Ethan has graduated to 4-H beef cattle competitions.
Lambs and goats are considered meat animals, and they are judged in 4-H competition on their meat quality, said Woodard. Students work to grow strong, muscled animals that stand out among the competition.
“The kids have to build trust with the animal in order to train them to show well,” said Woodard.
Students as young as first grade can show in “Pre-Club;” regular 4-H shows are for students aged nine-19.
Claire Woodard, 12, has been showing lambs and goats (as well as swine, another 4-H program) for a number of years. Asked what she likes best about showing animals for 4-H, she replies, “Family time.”
“It takes all of us, as a family, to do this,” says Janet Woodard. “Just like a lot of kids’ activities, the more involved the family is, the better it is.”
Lamb and goat showing does indeed involve a lot of time. Students must care for their animals, feeding them twice a day and training them to show. Then students and their animals can participate in as many as a dozen local-and-state-level shows in Morgan County, Walton County and Oconee County, as well as the larger shows in Perry, Georgia, and other locales around the state.
How do kids get started showing lambs and goats? First, contact the 4-H department in the Morgan County Extension office at 706.342.2214 and let them know you want to participate. They can let you know where to purchase your lamb or goat, if you don’t already have a resource. Students must then have their animal tagged through the 4-H office so that they can participate in shows. The 4-H staff, through a series of locally-held clinics, teaches kids how and what to feed their animals, how to train them for show, and how to keep appropriate records. Once the shows start, the fun really begins.
“You learn something new every time you go to a show,” said Woodard. “You meet other people raising meat animals, and you learn and try different things.”
Meat animals are grouped in weight and age classes at shows; each class and each division has a winner, and generally a “Grand Champion” is also named; students can win, place, or show at any level. Students can also receive “Showmanship” kudos for how well they comport themselves as trainers during competition.
In addition to the animals themselves, 4-Hers can compete on the basis of their record-keeping, noting feeding and training schedules and taking photos of their animals for their scrapbook-style logbooks. This year, students who are interested in raising goats and lambs but do not have the ability or space to work with an actual animal of their own can join the “Lamb & Meat Goat Project Club,” organized by Claire Woodard,
But the rewards for all this hard work can be fun. Students can earn ribbons, plaques, trophies, and “lamb shirts” (exercise blankets for shorn animals, often embroidered with the name of the competition) for their participation and placement in fairs; they can also earn cash prizes, savings bonds, and coveted, traditional belt buckles at the state level. They also get to travel the state, in some cases, and visit the accompanying fairs that go hand-in-hand with many livestock competitions.
In fact, Liam Tewksbury says the fairs are a big plus. Asked what he enjoys about showing lambs and goats, Liam is enthusiastic.
“You get a free wristband to go on all the rides and stuff, and I get to see all my friends,” said Liam, as mom Ginger laughs in exasperation. “And learn responsibility,” he adds with a grin.