Monday, July 14, 2014

Dear friends and farmers,

My name is Marina Madsen and I have been in the Glenview Clovers 4H club for six years. The club is held at Historic Wagner Farm for kids ages 8-18 to learn about life on the farm and also to become active members of their community.  We do many community service events and we have a meeting each month.

One huge aspect of our club is preparing for the Lake County fair, which happens at the end of July. Many members spend a great deal of time thinking up, creating and perfecting their fair projects. There are so many options for fair projects. You can build a rocket, do fine arts, cook, knit, build small machines, decorate cakes, write a book report, make a scrap book, research your family tree, and so much more. But one type of project sets us apart. We can bring animals to the fair, and more precisely, farm animals. Yes, I am saying swine, sheep and dairy cows. If members choose they can buy (or lease in the case of a dairy cow) the animal of their choice.

I own a lamb. I bought him in April when he was three months old. He and his brothers (lambs bought by other 4H members) were all born on the same day. We don’t, however know what day that is; only that it was some day in January/February. They have to be fed twice every day, but because of our large group, that means each kid only needs to feed about once every week. Several kids will come to clean pens on Saturdays before feeding. I like coming to the Farm more often, however, to walk my lamb. This helps build up muscle, something that judges look for come fair time.

The lambs are market animals, as are the pigs, which mean that they are sold for meat. This is one of the parts of the learning experience that all pig and lamb owners have to go through. For some of the kids it is difficult to think of this animal that you have been taking care of for months being sold for meat, but it is an essential part to learning about where food comes from. Raising animals is an enriching experience for us 4Hers and teaches responsibility and hard work.

There are several ways we prepare for judging at the fair. First we want to get the lamb familiar with us, so that when we show them (walk them around holding behind the ears and under the jaw) they are comfortable with us touching them and the judges touching them (finding muscle). Any time prior to judging that we are with the animal helps familiarize them with us. We also have to train their muscles to be comfortable in the ideal showing position (extending the lambs back legs and squaring the front two with the shoulders) which shows the lamb’s muscles at their fullest. Ways to practice are simply taking the lambs on walks to exercise them (the more the better) or even just tying them up to a post and trying to set up their legs in the ideal positions. We as handlers also need to practice walking the lamb without a lead.

Equally important to making the animal look good, the handler has to look good. This means tidy appearance and knowledge. Our club has a uniform for showing our animals that includes a shirt, blue jeans and a brown belt. Hair should also be tucked up. No muck boots should be worn because they are clunky and dirty. The outfit varies for each animal. For instance, with cows, you have to wear white jean pants to show how clean the animal is. There is a lot to know about the animals too, for instance: types of diseases, their symptoms, and how they affect your animal, types of breeds, and  the different cuts of meat and where they can be found in the lamb. The physical animal, how you display it to be its best, and your knowledge of the animal are all are factors that determine how you get judged and scored at fair.

I love being in 4H and having a lamb. It is a crazy unique experience that I keep learning from and enjoy teaching the new members about. Sometimes I get really dirty and smelly and half trampled by the heavy weight lambs when I’m feeding. But it really is a great experience and I have learned so much which I would otherwise not have known about. It also makes a great conversation starter.

“Yeah, so I was walking my lamb through Glenview…”


Until next time,