Buena Vista County Fair
By DARCY DOUGHERTY
ALTA – While Ava Brenner had a lot of fun helping with her friend’s sheep project last year for the Buena Vista County Fair, there was one thing she missed.
The chance to show her own sheep.
For kids like Brenner who live in town, raising large animals is usually out of the question. That’s why volunteers like Rusty Corderman have stepped in to fill a need.
“Kids learn so much by raising livestock and showing them at the county fair,” said Corderman, 65, who farms southeast of Newell and has served as the sheep superintendent at the Buena Vista County Fair for nearly 20 years. “That’s why we have special projects for sheep, hogs and cattle.”
For the past 12 years, Corderman, a former high school ag teacher and 4-H leader, has “loaned” sheep from his flock to give kids like Brenner the chance to learn the joys and responsibilities of animal husbandry. It works well for kids that live in town and have no way to raise large animals. It also works for kids who live in the country but don’t have facilities at their family’s farm or acreage to accommodate a specific species.
“I really like raising sheep,” said Brenner, 10, a Maple Valley Ag 4-H Club member who exhibited her sheep in the lightweight lamb class at the 2018 Buena Vista County Fair in early July. “Rusty makes it fun.”
Projects promote sportsmanship, leadership, friendship
Each spring, 4-H and FFA members who are interested in a special sheep project reach out to Corderman, who has 40 ewes in his flock. This year Corderman is working with 32 students from fifth through 12th grade across Buena Vista County, from Newell to Albert City to Alta.
Students pay $15 to participate in the special sheep program. They come to Corderman’s farm in the spring to pick out the sheep they’ll exhibit at the fair.
Corderman emphasizes the importance of dedication to their fair project. Most students visit his farm about seven times from May through early July to work with their animal.
“We definitely look forward to going to Rusty’s place to work with the sheep,” said Abbie Watts, 15, who shows sheep through the Maple Valley Ag 4-H club, along with her sister, Allison, 12.
Their mother, Kristen Watts, knows the sheep special project has benefited her daughters.
“It’s a great learning experience. Not only do the kids learn how to take care of an animal, but they take pride in their work,” she said. “They also learn communication skills, since they have to talk to the judge when they show the sheep.”
Bryleigh Marshall, 12, of Alta is also interested in livestock production, thanks to the sheep on her grandfather’s farm.
“I’ve always wanted to work with sheep,” she said. “It’s not always easy working with them or showing them, but I like going to Rusty’s farm and learning about how to get better.”
Corderman also stresses the importance of good sportsmanship and friendship.
“I’m always encouraging the exhibitors to cooperate and be respectful of each other,” said Corderman. “They help each other out when they’re at the fair, like filling the water pan for their friend’s sheep when they fill their own water pan.”
The experience is often life-changing for the 100 plus kids who have participated in special sheep projects through the years. Many have been part of the program for six years or more.
“Parents and grandparents tell me they just can’t believe the positive changes they see in the kids after they get involved with special livestock projects,” said Corderman, an independent insurance agent who was in inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame in 2008. “You see them grow up and mature into polite, goal-oriented, caring young adults.”
Cattle special projects grow confidence
The special sheep projects build on the success of special cattle projects at the Buena Vista County Fair.
Pat Murphy, a cattle buyer from Newell, has spearheaded this program for the past eight years.
“We furnish the calves at no charge and feed them, but we do require the students to come to the farm to work with the cattle,” said Murphy, who works with kids from Fonda to Storm Lake and beyond. “The whole experience, including showing the cattle at the county fair, exposes kids to a whole new world and instills confidence in them.”
He typically invests $1,400 to $1,500 per animal for the special cattle projects. He’s willing to do this because he believes in the importance of Iowa’s animal agriculture industry and wants to keep young people connected with agriculture, especially as fewer youth grow up on farms.
Tanner Snyder, a 2018 graduate of Storm Lake St. Mary’s High School and member of the Providence Go-Getters 4-H Club, participated in the special cattle project this year, along with his younger brother, Kendall.
“We live on a farm, but it’s not a cattle farm,” said Tanner Snyder, who plans to study pre-veterinary medicine at college this fall. “I thought the special project would be a great opportunity to try something new.”
Snyder appreciated the opportunity to learn about cattle production as he trained his Charolais steer to wear a halter and follow his lead.
“Watching him grow and showing him at the fair gave me a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.
Beth Greenfield, 16, of Fonda, normally shows horses at the fair but decided to try a cattle special project for the first time this year, too.
“I enjoy working with all types of animals,” she said.
Another cattle special project participant, Paige Roberts, 15, of Albert City, is familiar with cattle production, although her family focuses more on breeding cattle.
“I like showing cattle at the fair, because I get to be with my friends,” she said.
Lessons last a lifetime
Not into cattle or sheep? Kids in Buena Vista County can also try a special swine project.
“This year we had 36 kids involved,” said Doug White, one of the fair’s swine superintendents.
Kids pay a small fee to participate. They start with a “pigs 101” class where they learn swine production terminology and sustainable production practices. They can also take a hands-on workshop to learn more about raising hogs. Classes are held at the Iowa State University (ISU) Extension office in Buena Vista County and at the ISU Allee Demonstration Farm near Newell.
The benefits of giving students hands-on experience with swine production will last long after the county fair is over, White said.
Another key partner for the special swine projects is Matt McCarthy, of Newell, who raises pigs for The Maschhoffs LLC.
“These kids will be tomorrow’s shoppers and voters, so helping them learn about animal agriculture is important,” said McCarthy.
It takes time and energy to provide these learning opportunities. Each winter Corderman wonders if this is the year he should retire from special sheep projects. But then he thinks about how much he enjoys the process.
“Those kids just melt your heart when they thank you for giving them a chance to show livestock,” he said.
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