HARRISBURG, Pa. — David Sheppard and Jake Rader didn’t win big at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. They had a great time anyway.
The middle schoolers are part of the 4-H club at Fox Chase Farm, a property in northeast Philadelphia managed by the city school district.
The boys spent hours caring for their market lambs and preparing them for this week’s show in Harrisburg. After-school and Saturday work is required at the farm.
The pair felt they had met expectations when one of the club’s handful of Dorsets placed well enough to participate in Tuesday’s junior livestock sale.
Fox Chase is a nonprofit farm, so even with fundraisers, it can be hard for the club to compete with big-time show families who invest heavily in animals with top genetics.
David and Jake didn’t seem to mind.
After all, they’d gotten to tramp the tanbark at the state’s most famous livestock event just like the other 4-H’ers. And even if they didn’t expect to win, they could still hone their livestock showing skills.
“Every year you’re just going to get better and better at it because you learn what you did wrong, you learn a new thing you can do,” David said.
While waiting to sell the lamb, David and Jake narrated as fellow club member Emma Lindemuth demonstrated how to position the sale lamb as she would for the show ring.
“You kind of want to set them like a table,” Jake said, meaning that the legs should be evenly positioned.
The 4-H’ers have also learned about sheep anatomy so they can answer the judge’s questions.
But David’s favorite part of showing sheep is learning the animal’s personalities.
His Farm Show lamb always seemed to be chewing on something. “He’s really energetic. He always wants to be with his friends,” David said.
Jake and Emma said they like the docility of sheep.
“Goats are more energetic and jumpy and fun. Sheep are more chill and relaxed,” Emma said.
Caleb Strait, a 4-H’er from Fulton County, has a similar appreciation for sheep.
“I enjoy fitting them, getting them ready to show, and being out there in the ring. They’re probably my favorite animal to show,” said Strait, who has also raised pigs and goats.
Caleb, 17, keeps his animals at his grandparents’ place. For the Farm Show, he looked for a sheep with a square body and thick muscling.
He chose well. His sheep placed first in its class.
Caleb also was right on the money with the sheep’s weight. It weighed in at 139 pounds; the target is 140.
He has been accepted at Penn State Main Campus, where he plans to study marketing or finance after high school.
Those aren’t specifically agricultural professions, but he said that showing livestock has given him transferable skills like responsibility that will serve him well in whatever he does.
As the Fox Chase 4-H’ers might say, there’s something to gain from the Farm Show regardless of where you place.