MOSES LAKE — What does it take to be an FFA grand champion sheep shower?
“I just put in work, put my best out in the showing field. I always strive for my best,” said 15-year-old Gavin Sahli as he stood with his project sheep Clyde.
Of course, Sahli isn’t the only young person in FFA or 4-H who worked hard in the last few months (or years) to master the skills needed to care for and handle sheep at the Grant County Fair.
Or even striven his best while pivoting around his animal, eyes on the judge, in an arena full of sawdust showing off a sheep that, for some, struggled to behave itself.
But he and Clyde did earn the FFA grand champion ribbon for fitting and show Thursday morning, and after swapping his bright blue FFA jacket for a red and white checked shirt, proceeded to win a showmanship ribbon for that as well.
“How long have I been doing this? Seven years? Eight years?” Sahli said as he smiled. “I don’t know.”
He does know that he’s using the same tack box his great-grandfather made when he was in 4-H, handling sheep and showing them at county fairs.
“Once you figure out to manage them, it’s easy,” Sahli said.
The Grant County Fair’s three 4-H sheep barns were full this week, of young people and their animals, of ribbons and photos and feed and sweeping up and the anxiety of competition.
Of young people glad they had won, or simply thankful they were done.
“We put coats on them to keep them clean,” said 11-year-old Addison Mills on Tuesday morning as she stood beside the stall where her sheep stood, pondering whatever it is sheep ponder.
It’s her first year handling sheep, she said, and last year she showed chicken.
“They’re easier to handle. I like sheep better,” Mills said.
And she was matter of fact about what would happen to the animals she has spent so much time caring for and raising.
“The ewes are for breeding, and the boys go to the butcher,” she said in a way only an 11-year-old girl could.
Mills was showing “for market” on Tuesday, which doesn’t require the kind of close cooperation with the animal, according to her mom Stephanie.
“The purpose of market is to see how good this animal will look on your plate,” Stephanie Mills said. “This is about how the lamb looks.”
Jared Collins, a sheep farmer and agriculture science instructor at the Sherman County School in Moro, Ore., and the judge of this year’s 4-H and FFA sheep showing competitions, evaluates the animals almost as if they were products, looking at their shape, their bone structure, the amount of fat on their bodies.
“Most of the sheep for market, it’s about lambs that will produce high-quality carcasses,” Collins said. “It’s a combination of carcass and behavior.”
As he orders the kids and their lambs around the sawdust covered arena, he will poke each lamb’s sides, feel a thigh, test how firm its midsection is. And aside from the questions he asks on Thursday, it’s hard to tell much difference between Tuesday’s market competition and Thursday’s fitting and show.
Mills doesn’t do as well as she wanted to — her class was won by 13-year-old Clarissa Negrete, who had another class earlier that morning. And even from the stands, Mom can tell.
“She’s not happy. You can see it all the way from here,” Christina said.
And just like Sahli would on Thursday, Negrete on Tuesday attributed her two championship ribbons to the hard work she’s done in the runup to the county fair and the fact that she started working with, raising, and showing animals when she was 8 years old.
“I worked with them all summer, just put a lot of time into it,” Negrete said.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at email@example.com.