Summer is over. We are officially back to school. Summers here are crazy. With 4 kids who are growing up and all becoming "real" people with social lives, this mom is basically everyone's personal taxi driver/secretary/cook/maid etc... So forgive me teachers (who i greatly appreciate, always) and parents who adore being a slave to their precious children, when I say, "Thank you God for back to school!" Sigh.
I do have to mention, a few weeks ago my kids participated in our county 4-H round-up at the county fair and they all did great! The kid who said he wouldn't be doing 4-H again, came to me two days into the fair and asked if he could raise dairy beef, sheep, and goats next year! I'd say it was successful. Of course the stress of getting them to fill out their project books and actually do the "taking care of the animal" part wasn't always pleasant, but as my mother says, "Of course it sucks when your the parent, but your doing it for the kids, because it's making them better people". I sure hope so.
I'm excited! Next week our family is going to be attending the Garden State Sheep & Wool Festival and participating in the Classic & Shetland Shows! This will be our first adventure into the world of Shetland Sheep shows. As a kid I raised market lambs every year for 4-H and so I'm familiar with the market shows and how to prepare the animals for show, but a wool show is a totally different thing. With a market lamb, the exhibitor must "slick shear" their animal a week or so before the show so that the wool is very short & close to the skin, because the judge needs to be able to feel the "meat" on the animal and assess the condition and strength of the animal based on what it will look like hanging in a butcher shop cooler. (Sorry but its the circle of life & Isn't it better to know where your food came from and what it ate?)
A wool show is very different because obviously they are assessing the outside of the sheep rather than the inside. The judge is looking to see how long, crimpy, and shiny the wool on your sheep is and if it's a "breed" show, they are looking to see how well your animal compares to the 'breed standard". They will also feel for confirmation and look to make sure the animal looks and acts like a healthy well taken care of animal.
This said, my first mission in getting our sheep ready was to chose who we would be taking to represent our flock. Being that young learners are generally faster learns (but not in all cases), I decided we'd take a few of our lambs from this past Spring. So I chose four of the "favorites" and also the ones who I thought would do well in their catagories. We will be taking 2 Ram Lambs, Butthead (yes his name is Butthead) & Todd and 2 Ewe Lambs Waters & P.J.
The second step in getting prepared for showing is to halter train the animals. This is the hard part really. The idea is to put a halter around it's head in order to control the animal and walk it around (like a collar for you dog people or a bridle for you horse lovers). Of course if a sheep has never had a halter on they may fuss a bit before they get used to it. By fuss I mean jump around like a nut (or like someone's pinching them), drop down onto their knees and refuse to move, pull back like crazy trying to get away, or like ours did, they might flop on the ground, roll their eyes up in their head and "play dead". The halter doesn't hurt them, they just haven't figured out that if they don't pull and just follow by the leaders side they won't even notice the halter is on. Its just a way to guide them and keep them near by and safe.
We've been halter training for a few weeks now and I think we are almost ready. The rams actually are doing much better than the ewes. When we (me really & hubby just says "yes dear") decided we were going to try showing this year, the kids chimed in and asked if they could be a part of it and help show, so not only will this be our first show, it will be our first show as a family. That said, one of the boys has decided he would like to try his hand at the showmanship contest (even though he has ever shown sheep before) and he has been pretty diligently working with the animal he chose to use for that show. While he goes out to work with his sheep the other kids have been spending time with the others, so the ram's should do pretty well on a lead. The girls are another story. They still do the "dead man flops", as I call it. It will be interesting to see how much saw dust ends up in their coats during the show. They will be "in full coat", for the show, meaning that we won't be shearing them before the show. This way the judge can see the wool on the animal and be able to judge how it compares to the other sheep in the class.
Over all, so far, it's been fun and exciting. The vet came yesterday to do health inspections for health papers. He said everyone looks great. I'm really starting to get excited. Even if we don't place well, the experience will be totally worth it! I'm also getting some of my shorn fleece ready to take to enter into the Fleece Show/Contest & maybe try to sell a few, along with preparing a few skeins of hand spun yarn that I've made this year to see how well I do against other hand spinners. Last year I entered and it was very apparent that I was a beginner, but with a whole year of experience under my belt and new knowledge in my head, I really see a difference in my yarn from last year to this year.
So I'll have lots to update everyone on in a week or so, but for now, wish us luck!