Field Days vignette: Showing sheep takes a lot of commitment

After the sheep judging was done for the day Thursday evening and the sheep tents were relatively quiet, a big, white ewe bleated plaintively in one corner. A young man in a pink shirt and madras shorts was manhandling her into a frame that would hold her head erect and her body still so he could give her a trim.
Jarrod Ashley of Whiting was primping a female named Clarice to get her ready to compete in the natural color ewe judging the next morning.
After a few minutes Clarice stood quietly, yielding to the quick “snip, snip, snip” of Ashley’s hand clippers, little bits of fleece falling like clouds to the floor of the tent.
Ashley names his lambs with a theme each spring so he can easily remember which ones are the same age. The year Clarice was born he named the lambs after characters in the animated movie “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (Clarice was Rudolph’s girlfriend).
Rudolph the sheep was not at Field Days last week; Ashley had sold him.
“He’s in Leicester,” Ashley said.
Ashley said he had had some success earlier in the fair. Comet, a big white sheep with a black face who was born the same year as Clarice, of course, was a finalist for supreme champion.
“Comet’s twin brother (Cupid) got supreme champion ram last year,” he noted.
Ashley used to be more active in raising and showing sheep, but he brought only 12 sheep to the fair this year. Since he went to college a couple years ago he has had to scale back. He started in the agriculture school at Cornell University, but switched to computer science. The rising senior is writing some software to help sheep breeders better keep track of their animals. The software would automate entry of data like vaccinations into health records.
“It’s a lot easier than typing all of it individually into a spreadsheet,” he said.
Ashley acknowledged that there already is some software available that does many of the same things, but creating the software gives him a real-world project to show instructors and future employers what he can do. Plus, he did add a unique feature just because it interested him. The software keeps track of the genealogy of each animal so that with a couple of keystrokes he can figure out what percentage of the bloodline of each animal in his herd comes from what farms in Vermont.
He didn’t know how Clarice would fare in Friday’s competition. He’d already had one minor setback. The parent of another sheep shower came over and chided him about how her daughter’s animal had beat his ram in an earlier competition.
“The judge said his sheep was obese,” she crowed.
Ashley smiled good-naturedly and pointed to a pen where Cy, the big — really big — black-faced sheep lay under a light-weight garment that looked a lot like a caftan. The 350-pound beast raised his head and seemed to smile at a visitor.
— John S. McCright

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