Next to the Manger: Holidays with a 4-H Sheep Club

12/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Anne Harnish Food and Family Features Editor

One 4-H club in Delaware County, Pa., has found a unique way to combine the holidays with a 4-H fundraiser. It offers to supply Christmas nativity scenes with live sheep and shepherds, for a donation.

Last year, the Delaware County 4-H sheep club brought their wooly charges to seven different nativity scenes in the county, mostly local churches. Each nativity scene stint usually lasted two to two-and-a-half hours and included two sheep plus at least two 4-H members and adult volunteers.

This year, the Delaware County club, which is a cooperative, has been getting the word out that they have sheep available again.

"The kids love doing it. It's a good fundraiser for the kids," said Debbie Murphy, who along with her husband, has volunteered as a 4-H leader in Delaware County for more than 20 years.

There are some requirements for the 4-H sheep to participate: the sheep have to be lambs that are not bred or pregnant, and they must be very tame and halter-bred.

According to Murphy, the seasonal fundraiser works well with 4-H members who have sheep in a breeding program. Most 4-H sheep are shown at a fair, then sold at the end of the show season. A youth who keeps a ewe for a breeding project, has responsibilities beyond the showring. The ewe has to be cared for all winter long before she's bred. There's no sale money to defray expenses of year-round maintenance, which means paying for feed, medications and tools like shears and clippers. Participating in a nativity scene can help the 4-Hers pay those costs, and to pay for the gas to trailer the sheep to the location.

"The kids have fun. It's cold, but they take breaks," Murphy said about the nativity scenes. And, she added, "Fairs are more stressful. This is something they can enjoy."

Murphy said that the churches they've worked with usually have costumes for the Mary, Joseph, Jesus and angel characters, as well as several shepherd costumes on hand for the 4-H'ers.

Donations to the club for the sheep-shepherd combination are usually $125 a night, or $100 per night if the church does it for more than one evening.

Murphy said the Delaware County 4-H club has had some funny moments around the nativity scenes, such as the year one of the featured sheep started drinking the hot chocolate that a youth was holding while they were posing. On another occasion, the sheep were stuck in a trailer that got a flat tire on the way to the church. Fortunately, she said, they eventually fixed the tire and were only a few minutes late.

Murphy also recommended doing the nativity scenes earlier in December rather than waiting until closer to Christmas, since people tend to get too busy and "too crazed" later in the month.

For the Delaware County club, the fundraiser started five years ago with just one church and has grown. She said that retired Penn State Extension agent Bud Bryan, who has volunteered for years with the Delaware County 4-H club, asked a church or two if they'd be interested and the program got started.

The Delaware County 4-H program has a cooperative livestock program, including sheep, beef, cows, pigs and poultry, at the Garrett Williamson Foundation 4-H Farm in Newtown Square, Pa.

For more information about the Delaware County 4-H sheep club, contact Debbie Murphy at 610-793-1577.


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