DELTA, Pa. — Paige Rickey, now 17, has been showing goats since she was 9. Her eighth-grade sister, Brooke, has been showing as a 4-H’er for four years.
Though the second-generation Suffolk sheep farmers did not come away with the top awards on July 12 at the open breeding sheep show at the Mason-Dixon Fair in Delta, it was just a short drive to compete.
They live five minutes from the fairground, “just over the mountain” on Goose Creek Farm in Whiteford, Md., their mother, Jill, said.
The grounds of the Mason-Dixon Fair sit right next to the “Welcome to Maryland” sign along Route 74 in York County, Pa.
Paige’s lamb Pickle won champion ewe lamb. One of Brooke’s animals was a reserve champion Suffolk.
Pickle also won Paige the champion ewe lamb ribbon at the 4-H sheep show earlier in the week.
Both sisters also brought a heifer to the fair. Paige won reserve champion Angus.
The cattle went back home midweek. The small fair setup can’t hold all the livestock at once, so each category of animals is assigned either the earlier or later half of the week to be at the fair, Jill Rickey explained.
The sisters will also compete at the Harford County Farm Fair and Maryland State Fair later this year. Some yearlings that they left home for the Mason-Dixon Fair will be on display at their county fair.
The Rickeys are a big livestock family. Paige and Brooke’s sheep are in the same bloodline as their mother’s flock. Their parents own five acres of the extended family’s 200-acre farm. Their father, Jay, is president of the Harford County Farm Bureau.
In the future, Paige plans to be an elementary-school teacher but still keep a small farm. She said she is just starting to look at colleges.
The sisters said their fair preparation has included only the standard pre-show training with their animals, such as walking and practicing standing.
The constant bleating, which can be maddening and hard to talk over, does not bother Brooke. “I grew up with em,” she said.
Suffolks are a wool bred, and the Rickeys send the product to the local wool pool. The girls shear the sheep.
The family will sell the animals for meat, but they do not make as much money from that because Suffolks are not bred for the quality of their meat.
Paige’s Pickle and Brooke’s Pitstop — “I call him Hairyhead,” Brooke advises — eat “the standard yellow barn sheep and goat mix” and alfalfa, Paige said. The family also pastures the animals.
Brooke’s favorite part of the show experience is when the sheep behaves appropriately in the ring.
“You can tell that you’ve worked with em,” she said.
Paige, on the other hand, said she would have liked to have trained Pickle to be a little more disciplined during the show.
The family also sells market lambs and steers. They will sell some animals at the county fair, and they also do private beef, lamb and chicken sales.
The family has 20 sheep in its flock, which Jill Rickey said is good for Harford County. The number of sheep farmers in the area has been declining for a while, she said.
Maintaining and rotating bucks is a lot of work, she noted.
Paige’s ewe lost to one from Denny Haugh for champion Suffolk ewe, though JJ Kessinger’s Southdown beat Haugh’s animal for top ewe in the show.
Haugh was a juggernaut in the show, raking in almost 20 awards. He dominated the Suffolk and Montadale breeds. His Suffolks won champion flock, and Paige Rickey was the only competitor to snatch a win from him in that breed.
Kyle McCleary swept the other meat breeds with a Tunis lamb and other wool breeds with his Bluefaced Leicester animals.
Natasha Vadas took champion ram with her commercial sheep winner.
Judge John “Speedy” Fought of Carlisle, Pa., liked the “nice, thick top line” and muscling on Vadas’ sheep. A 15-year sheep-judging veteran, Fought said he judged at the Mason-Dixon Fair once before a year or two ago.
Because the ram is responsible for 60 to 70 percent of a flock’s productivity, the ram is the basis for a flock, he said. The quality of the ram in Haugh’s Suffolk flock made the difference in the champion flock category.
Spectator turnout for the sheep show was light thanks to overcast skies and drizzle, said Barry Glassman, a Maryland state senator who helped exhibitors in the Mason-Dixon ring as he does in many local shows.
Friday night is typically the fair’s biggest night, he said.
Following is the list of winners at the July 12 sheep show:
Small and Large Flock
Other Meat Breeds
Other Wool Breeds
Natasha Vadas, Commercial
JJ Kessinger, Southdown
Denny Haugh, Suffolk