LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa. — The Lytle family has recently produced some of the state’s top Hampshire sheep, and a member of the family has been named the breed’s premier exhibitor at the Pennsylvania Farm Show the past two years.
Dave and Barbara Lytle’s 16-year-old triplets, Alyssa, Emily and Justin, will look to earn top honors in their breed for the third straight year at the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show. The sheep show is scheduled for Jan. 11.
Alyssa will lead the way this year. Her sister showed most of the family’s sheep in 2012, and her brother took his turn this year. All three siblings show every year, but they rotate who shows the largest number of animals.
Some show categories, like flock or ewe lamb pair, require several sheep. “It’s a family flock,” but the Farm Show allows only one person to be listed as an animal’s owner, Dave Lytle said.
Lytle, the Eastern sales manager for Arm and Hammer Animal Nutrition and the just-installed president of the American Hampshire Sheep Association, showed his first Hampshire as a 12-year-old 4-H’er in 1974 when he got five sheep from the University of Delaware flock.
The university had Hampshires and Dorsets at the time, and he picked the Hampshires after a little research.
“The first year, I was dead last, so our kids have certainly had the benefit of me having a flock,” he said.
That placing motivated him to improve, and the family has been competing at Farm Show every year, with maybe one or two exceptions, since then.
And improve they have. In 2012, Emily showed the reserve champion ram and the top two ewes, and was named premier exhibitor.
This year Justin showed the top two rams and ewes, and also took premier exhibitor.
Justin has also branched out from Hampshires, adding four Corriedales. They do not need as much maintenance for showing, he said.
“That (breed) you don’t even have to wash except for the legs,” he said.
The family plans to show seven of its own sheep at Farm Show, but the siblings might end up leading about 50 sheep around the ring, as people from other breeds ask for their help, Dave Lytle said.
Showing in other breeds helps broaden the siblings’ experience with sheep, Emily said.
“It’s a good feeling when people come up to us” and trust us to show their sheep, Alyssa said.
In total, the family owns about 35 sheep.
Even though the triplets have worked with many breeds, they still like the Hampshires.
“I like their size because we had Cheviots at one point,” Emily said. “The Hampshires are easier to handle” than the smaller, more rambunctious Cheviots.
The siblings start training the sheep in July or August with halter breaking for the local shows like the Chester County 4-H Round-up. They continue training until the Farm Show, Emily said.
The Lytles cut the wool about six or seven weeks before a show. They cut the sheep back on Black Friday to prepare for Farm Show.
They did not have to take off too much wool because they had recently sheared the sheep for the Keystone International Livestock Exposition, or KILE, in October.
At that show, Justin took reserve champion in the junior Corriedale show. In the Hampshire junior show, Alyssa had the reserve champion ewe. Emily was third in her class, sandwiched by two of Alyssa’s entries.
Having siblings in the same show has its benefits. The Lytles practice together in their barn, giving a more realistic simulation of a show than if they had to practice alone.
“I think it’s kind of more fun because we do things together,” Emily said.
The practice walks don’t necessarily give them an idea of who will place the best at Farm Show, though. “You can’t even predict it sometimes because judges are all different,” Alyssa said.
The sheep will be 11 months old at Farm Show, and they have changed a lot since KILE, Dave Lytle said. That growth makes their placing even more difficult to predict.
Even spending time in the pens is different at Farm Show than at other shows.
“It’s a lot more public thing” than the local shows, Alyssa said.
Farm Show draws a lot of nonfarmers who ask questions about sheep, Emily said.
“Do they bite?” is a common question, Justin said.
Farm Show also has larger competitive classes. At some of the local fairs, the Lytles may be showing against only a few other families.
The Farm Show attracts a lot of high-quality animals too, Justin said.
While the sheep’s show placement is a reflection of the whole family’s efforts, the Outstanding Young Shepherd Program gives the siblings a way to make their mark as individuals.
“That’s something you can alter or change,” Justin said.
The Young Shepherd scoring includes a skillathon that tests participants’ sheep knowledge, placement in the show and showmanship.
Showmanship is judged as a separate contest during the local shows, but at Farm Show it is scored at the same time as the regular Hampshire show.
The showmanship competition at Farm Show is more of a pass-fail event, and multiple exhibitors can be named Master Showman.
“It’s not really competitive. It’s just, Did you do well?’ ” Justin said.
One downside to combining the showmanship component with the regular show is that participants do not get advice on how they can improve like they do at local shows, Emily said.
When they first started showing at Farm Show, the siblings were happy to miss a half day of school for the show. Now that they are taking honors and advanced placement courses at Avon Grove High School, “it’s really hard to miss half a day of school,” Barbara Lytle said.
After 16 years, the siblings are now adept at working with the sheep. They once lambed a set of triplets while their parents were away.
“I was on paper towel duty,” Emily said.
Barbara Lytle calls Alyssa the “sheep whisperer” for her ability to get lambs to nurse from a bottle when the other family members cannot.
The Lytles built a new sheep barn four years ago. Until then, they had to wash the sheep outside. The wash water often froze on the wash stand.
“It was so cold I actually dislocated my finger” and took five minutes to realize it, Barbara Lytle said.
Most of the feed comes from the almost 60 acres of the adjacent properties of Dave Lytle and his father. The farms run a corn maze and pick-your-own pumpkin field every year. The sheep get corn from the maze, along with hay and oats.
Raising sheep has also taught the children that death is a part of life, Barbara Lytle said.
When the siblings were in seventh grade, a ewe delivered a lamb that was not breathing just before the school bus came in the morning. Alyssa and Justin got on the bus, and Emily stayed with the sheep until her mother got the aspirator set up.
The bus passes the Lytles’ house twice, and Emily got on the second time. “I went to school not knowing if the lamb had started breathing,” she said.
Barbara Lytle called the school later in the day, and a teacher told his students that they should tell Emily Lytle if they saw her that the lamb was breathing.
About 20 students came up to her saying, “The lamb is alive, Emily. It’s OK,” she recalled.
The Lytles, of course, hope to be more than OK at the Farm Show.