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Weighing sheep for the fair

By Staff | May 1, 2009

Kiersten Beilke, 18, of Humboldt, poses with her two Hampshires after weighing and tagging them at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds Saturday. Beilke has shown for the last three years and is currently in FFA. She choses not to name her project animals because she sells them at market at the end of the fair.

HUMBOLDT – Despite the gray skies and cool morning temperatures, six 4-H and FFA members arrived at the Humboldt County fair grounds Saturday, April 25, with their sheep projects in tow.

Kiersten Beilke, an 18-year-old senior from Humboldt, was the first to arrive with her Hampshire ewe and wether, a castrated male. The two black-headed sheep nestled close to Beilke in the trailer.

“They didn’t like having their hair pulled for DNA tests,” Beilke said. The two sheep were also weighed and ear-tagged, but there was one process Humboldt County didn’t offer for those participating at the Iowa State Fair next August – retina scanning.

The technological equivalent to fingerprinting was implemented in 2007, and county youth director David Stephens said there are simply not enough exhibitors in the county to justify purchasing the equipment.

Instead, state fair-bound exhibitors take their sheep to neighboring counties, Wright or Webster, which have the retina scanners. Those weigh-ins are set for Saturday.

County sheep project leader, Gary Erickson reads the weight of one of Nick and Sara Torkelson's sheep Saturday during weigh-in at Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Dave Torkelson, right, and FFA adviser Tom Johnson stand by to help unload and place the next lamb on the scale.

“Here we just weigh, tag, and take hair samples for DNA tests,” said Tom Johnson, FFA adviser for Humboldt County. But, those heading for the state fair don’t have to weigh their projects twice. Counties conducting the retinal scans will send exhibitor’s copies to Humboldt.

For members content to show only at the county level, Humboldt was the one-stop shop with no lines. Sara and Nick Torkelson brought in five sheep and a lamb born Easter weekend. While the sheep were a bit resistant to leave the trailer, it posed no problems or delays for the experienced sheep showing family.

“I’ve shown every year since fourth grade,” Sara Torkelson said, who is a junior living near Thor. In the past, she has won top rate of gain, which is important for the showgirl who sells her projects at auction when the fair ends.

Sara’s 10-year-old brother, Nick, is showing for the first time this year. He wants to take pigs into the show ring, too. Both say they’re showing sheep “just for fun.”

With so many 4-H members involved in other fun activities throughout the year, including sports, many don’t have the time to dedicate their projects to the state fair. Some don’t even make it to the county fairs.

Humboldt County 4-H'er Nick Torkelson, 10, holds up his lamb project for this year's Humboldt County Fair. This little lamb was born on Easter weekend and is one of six Nick and his sister, Sara, a junior at Humboldt High School, are showing this year.

“Just let them come when they can,” Johnson said. “That’s all you can do.”

To cater to busy schedules, Humboldt County has opened its fair to all bordering counties’ 4-H clubs.

“We’ve been conducting a district-wide county fair for the past three years,” David Stephens, county youth coordinator, said. “It brings more exhibitors to the fair and makes the shows more fun for the kids.”

Ten-year-old twins Jaxson and Jaden Campin, both of Humboldt, were having a blast helping their dad corral their six sheep from the trailer to the scale.

“Oh, he’s good,” Jaden said, as he proudly watched on of his wethers get weighed. “This one’s mine. I have the biggest ones.”

Teddy was the smallest sheep in the bunch, 50 pounds, for the Campins.

“He was a bottle feeder,” Jaxson said. “This is our first year though. I’m pretty excited. I really like helping the sheep get worked.”

Jaxson said he and his brother have helped friends show sheep at the fair before. Now they are ready to take on the task themselves.

Sarah Rasmussen, 14, of Hardy, has a little more experience under her belt. The best part for her is working with her sheep throughout the year.

“Working with them is fun,” Rasmussen said. “It’s easier than working with other animals. They’re easy to walk.”

In complete contradiction, Rasmussen’s half-Suffolk, half-Hamberg ewes and wether refused to walk to the scale, and instead were content to fall to their bellies to be drug. However, the Rasmussen’s overruled and instead carried the stubborn creatures.

“We just got them last week,” Rasmussen said. “We’re still working on the game plan to train them.” With four years of sheep showing experience, there’s little doubt this will tame her projects by the end of July.

Contact Lindsey Ory by e-mail at lindsey.ory@hotmail.com.

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