By Melanie D. Hayes
The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. —
Tuesday morning, Sean Cave sheared one of his sheep as part of the grooming routine for the competition today.
Showing animals in the Madison County 4-H Fair competitions is more than just strutting animals around an arena.
There is a lot of hard work that goes into raising the animals, and then caring for and prepping them for the fair competitions.
“At home I feed and water them regularly, clean their pens out, put new bedding down,” Sean said. “Every day I do that.”
Sean was showing three pigs, which he raises at his Pendleton home, and four sheep, that are owned by his uncle.
Caring for the animals teaches him responsibility and good work habits, he said.
“I’ll know what I’m doing if I have my own farm,” he said. “I will know how to take care of the animals.”
Often, kids and teenagers become attached to the animals they care for and show. And then they have to face the possibility that those animals will be sold to other farmers for breeding, or to be slaughtered.
“Sometimes I get a little attached. I miss them a little at first,” Sean said. “But I get over it.”
Working next to Sean was Kaylee Dunham, 12. The young Tennessee girl sat in her wheelchair while using a hair dryer to dry the wool of one of her sheep.
She enjoys working with the animals, and has been showing them at the fair for three years.
“Some of them get sold to loving families. The girls go to breeders,” she said. “I get attached a little bit, but I know they go to loving families. And then I get new ones.”
Dunham has a good relationship with her sheep. The sheep are owned by a family friend in Alexandria, and Dunham visits them often.
“I sit with them and talk to them to calm them down. I use a calm voice to tell them ‘It’s OK. It’s fine,’” she said. “Sometimes they get annoyed with loud noises.”
Deanna Gray says that showing sheep has been a great experience for her sister Kaylee, who has cerebral palsy. It has given her a sense of independence, as well as the opportunity to be included in a big event, something that often doesn’t happen due to her having to use a wheelchair for mobility.
“She has learned how to do a lot of things on her own,” said Deanna, 14, of Michigan. “Before she was always asking for help, but ever since she started working with sheep she had been working harder to do things for herself.”
Deanna and 10-year-old brother Harley Dunham show cattle at the fair. And in order to be successful, they have to devote time to building relationships with the animals.
“It’s really hard with cattle because they need to be used to you,” she said. “You need to interact with them, otherwise they are scared and hard to control.”
And working with such large and strong animals requires dedication, patience and physical strength, she said.
Lucretia Lawler, 71, said showing animals has changed a lot from her day.
The Anderson woman began showing cattle in 1950 when she was 9 years old, and continued to do so until she was 21.
In those days, there were no buildings at the fairgrounds and animals were walked and shown out in the open, rather than in an arena, she said.
Lawler has attended the fair almost every year, since she was in 4-H, so she has witnessed the changes in the competitions.
“Before we didn’t know much about showing animals,” she said. “We just cleaned them up and walked them around. Now there are all kinds of tricks.”
Among those are using hair spray and back-combing a horse’s tail to make it fluffy, putting shoe polish on hooves to make them darker and shinier, and keeping fans on cattle all year long.
For Lawler, showing animals in 4-H taught her some lifelong lessons.
“You learn how to get along with everybody,” she said. “In the ’50s, when you’re on a farm, you didn’t get out much — just school, church and the farm. Through 4-H I learned that people that didn’t live on farms had different kinds of lifestyles. I met so many people and still have friends now that I met at that time.”
Find Melanie D. Hayes on Facebook and @MelanieDHayes on Twitter or call 648-4250.