Grooming intensifies as 4-Hers prep livestock for the fair

ORWELL / WEYBRIDGE — This week, 4-H youngsters around Addison County are busy washing, combing, clipping, currying and all-around grooming their animals and working on their own showmanship skills in preparation for the upcoming Addison County Fair and Field Days, Aug. 4–8.
For those kids who will be newcomers to showing at the fair, like 11-year-old Lily Russell of Orwell and 9-year-old Evan Rakowski of Vergennes, this week of preparation is filled with a special kind of anticipation.
Russell, who’ll be a sixth-grader at the Orwell Village School this fall, on Tuesday was over at the Crescent Moon Sheep Farm in Orwell getting pointers from her friends Gabrielle and Riley Ochs on how to get herself and her two sheep, Lilly and Odell, ready for Field Days. Russell’s sheep “Lilly,” a four-year-old border Leicester ewe, was tied to a grooming stand. All three of the girls were taking turns soaping, scrubbing and spraying her, a terrific activity for this hot July day.
Lilly is part of the Crescent Moon flock, as is her son Odell (named after New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.), who was born this past March. Gabby, 15, and Riley, 13, are both experienced 4-Hers and sheep experts. They were giving their younger friend tips on how to best groom her animal and how to best prepare for the show. This kind of mentoring, where older more experienced teenagers help younger kids, is at the heart of the 4-H approach to animals, friendship and learning.
After they rinsed the whitening shampoo out of Lilly’s wool, the girls carefully scrunched Lilly’s coat, handful by handful, to give it the look and the precise kind of curliness desired in a border Leicester. Then Russell took the clippers and trimmed the poop from under Lilly’s tail. The gleaming white sheep tied to the fitting stand after this trip to the beauty salon was a far cry for the picture of the muddy sheep on Riley’s iPhone — Lilly’s more normal look when hanging out with her friends in the paddock or pasture.
Lilly, as it turns out, is also a natural show girl, according to farm owner Andrea Ochs, who is Gabby and Riley’s mom. The ewe has a natural grace and confidence and an innate spark for standing and presenting herself to the judges, Ochs said. Son Odell has more to learn about being in the ring, and as Russell has worked with him, they have gained confidence and skills together.
Back in June, Russell attended a weekend 4-H sheep camp at the Addison County fairgrounds, where she learned about showmanship, sheep handling, breeds and selection, and sheep health, safety and first aid, among other topics. Russell has been learning more and more about sheep since joining 4-H two years ago, inspired by her older friends’ enthusiasm and seeing the kind of fun and camaraderie that comes with 4-H participation.
Final steps to get ready for the fair will be the vet visit on Friday to certify that the animals are healthy and some final packing of clothes and supplies. Like many 4-H attendees Russell plans to live at the fair all week in an RV with other 4-Hers and their parents and chaperones so that she’ll be ready for 5 a.m. barn duty and be on site for the fun.
Sheep exhibitors staying in what’s informally called “Sheep City” often share in communal meals throughout the week, and, of course, teens and tweens alike look forward to the rides and other attractions at the fair. The atmosphere of helpfulness and working together will be formally recognized at the end of the fair with a Good Shepherd award. This award goes to the young person deemed by peers and adults to have been the most helpful in the sheep tent all-around, taking care of the animals, getting feed and water, helping to muck out the stalls.
LILY RUSSELL OF Orwell will be showing sheep in competition for the first time this year at Addison County Fair and Field Days. Russell will be a sixth-grader at Orwell Village School this year.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
At Field Days, Russell will participate in both conformation and showmanship events.
“The kids love the camaraderie of 4-H,” said Andrea Ochs, a 4-H leader. “They learn to take ownership of a project, to become more responsible as young adults. It helps them do a better job in school. I see them taking more pride in what they do, becoming more helpful, stepping out of their comfort zone, doing more, trying more.”
“I feel less shy,” Russell said.
Leader Ochs agreed that Russell’s engagement with 4-H has helped the soft-spoken girl to gain poise and confidence.
Over in Weybridge on Tuesday, Evan Rakowski was hanging out in the barn with his heifer Nancy (a young female calf, who’s weaned but has not yet had her own first calf). Nancy is part of the Monument Farms herd, and Rakowski and his fellow 4-Hers in the Weybridge Willing Workers club sign up on a duty roster to share the ongoing chores of taking care of the club’s animals in barn space donated by local club supporters.
Rakowski brought Nancy a bucket of grain, which she ate in short order, deftly turning the bucket so that she got every last pellet. He sprayed her feet and sides to keep off the flies, which she really seemed to appreciate. He pet her, and it’s clear why he chose this particular calf to show. Nancy is a calm, happy animal, and the two have the kind of rapport that makes for good teamwork.
Like Odell, Nancy was born this past March. But compared to the four-day-old calf “Buttons” — who continually butts human visitors looking for a bottle of milk and capers around in his small pen — Nancy is a composed grown-up lady.
In June, Rakowski participated in a 4-H–sponsored clipping clinic, where youngsters learned how to clip their animals’ hair along the spine to make their coats conform to show criteria.
Rakowski joined 4-H the summer before second grade, and, like Russell, became interested initially because he had friends in the club. Last year he tried showing a calf in the Pee Wee class, where younger kids get to practice and see what it’s like to hold and show an animal for the first time. But next week will be the first time he’ll be truly showing an animal that he’s worked with, groomed, fed and cared for. Rakowski will participate in both conformation and showmanship events.
Asked why he chose to work with cows instead of another animal, Rakowski said, “Because I like cows the best. Cows are soft. I like to petting Nancy. She’s soft.”
There’s one aspect of the showing performance he is very much anticipating.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to walk her in the ring,” he said.
EVAN RAKOWSKI GUIDES his calf Nancy out of the barn at the Waterman Farm in Weybridge Tuesday afternoon. Rakowski has participated in the Pee-Wee shows at Field Days but this is the first year he will compete in the conformation and showmanship classes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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