Our winter break was slowly coming to a end which was the time between getting rid of the last set of show lambs and the start of next years project. Which led us to April of 2013. Which was the start to my last year in 4-H. Spending my spring break where I had been spending it for the past four years was working at Slack Club Lambs in North Manchester, Indiana. Tom Slack, whom is the boss man has, a sale every spring that consist of show wethers and ewe lambs. Most of the wether lambs go to 4-H families where as the ewe lambs are seen as the breeding stock and will typically be bought by anyone looking to improve their herd. But during spring break shearing and preparing the lambs for the sale little did I know what the end of the summer was going to be like.
Start of Summer Break
June of 2013 could have not arrived fast enough! I was so glad that school was finally out and that I had finally walked the stage and graduated from high school. It was now time to buckle down and start working with the livestock we had acquired for our show string. We had 4 pigs, 3 meat goat wethers, and at least 15 sheep in the barn. Seeing those numbers makes me happy that I have two younger hard working sisters who are also involved in 4-H. At the time of my last year of 4-H my sister Amber was 15 years old and starting her 7th year of 4-H. Then you have little miss Brianna who was only in 1st grade and wasn’t in 4-H but she still loved to help us in the barn.
The summer routine kicked in and we were up at 5am running sheep and goats and walking the hogs before the summer heat kicked in by 8am. Chores were usually done by 8am which allowed us to sneak in and take a nap. During the day we tried to complete other tasks we had to do like our 4-H books which were required to be done unless you wanted participation only at the county fair level. Then it was back to the barn around 5:30pm to start our evening activities. Livestock was fed and watered and then a quick trip to the house for dinner, some nights we skipped dinner just to work in the barn. The evening routine was usually run sheep and goats and also walk pigs but then you have the fun stuff which was working on showmanship and getting the lambs and goats to stick just right like they should in the show ring. While working livestock all summer I never really put much thought into the fact that my time in the ring was slowly coming to a end.
County fair time
Oh the joys of moving into county fair! It’s always so darn hot during our fair but oh does the county fair hold the best memories you will ever make. It’s the end of July and our fair is usually about 2 weeks before our state fair which starts at the beginning of August. So Amber and I spent our Thursday loading the trailer and getting everything gathered up. I finally sat down for a bit to take a break from the hot summers air, it was so quiet in the barn it felt like the calm before the storm or more like the rush of county fair approaching fast. Finally we loaded the animals on the trailer and Amber and I jumped in the truck and headed for the fairgrounds. Since we show on Monday morning three days after the fair has started we don’t get rushed to get everything done before we weigh in for county fair. Since Amber and I do everything together we spend the next three days up until the show shearing about ten lambs between the two of us. It’s exhausting work when it’s hot out and you feel completely drained and want nothing more than just to stand in front of a fan. Sitting down on Sunday evening realizing my last sheep show awaited me the next morning and emotions strung high that night.
I drove home Sunday night trying to hold my tears back as I headed for home to get some sleep. I felt like throwing up. My stomach was in knots; I wasn’t sure what to expect Monday morning, but I wanted nothing more than to take home the banner for Grand Champion Market Lamb. Alarm rang around 5:30am it was time to get up and get the day started. I headed for the fairgrounds not knowing what to expect that day but it was only 7am and it was already starting to feel like a hot day ahead of us. Since our county sheep show is so small I literally stand in the ring and walk in and out of the ring because we have such a quick turnaround. I had this really good Hampshire lamb which is a breed of lamb that has wool on its legs and head. The show continued on and as I walked in for Champion Hampshire overall I didn’t know what was happening but the next thing I know I was getting the hand shake for the Hampshire breed. I held it together we still had other lambs to show.
It was now time for the Grand Champion drive. I’ve never wanted something so bad in my life, I walked into the ring determined to come out on top. The next thing I know the judge is talking about the lambs I’m trying to stay calm but it’s so hard to breath in the summer heat as sweat drips down my face. I watch as the judge walks back and forth looking through the lambs an making his final decision, I look up after I check to make sure my lambs legs are still set to see he’s walking right towards me, hand extended. I shook his hand and said thanks. I made it probably two feet and I was balling like a baby and heading straight towards my mom’s arms with my lamb still in my hand. Best day ever. We achieved my biggest goal which was to be Grand Champion. The rest of the week continued showing goats and my swine. Thursday is auction day which is where I get the chance to thank everyone who supported me for ten years while in 4-H. They always say the only time you can cry is the first year of 4-H and the last year. I walked in the ring and was asked if I wanted to talk now and I said no and that I would talk when I came back with my hog. Gave me time to regroup or at least I hoped so. I came back out with my pig holding back tears, I grab for the microphone and I did all I could to get out what I could which turned into me just balling on the microphone the whole time. Needless to say emotions ran high that day knowing it was the last time for something that impacted me so much.
State Fair the ending of the chapter
All good things must always come to a end and my journey ended at the state fair. I was only twenty days shy of heading off to college which was exciting but nerve wrecking. I brought four of my market lambs to state fair trying to make a run for the big purple banner one last time. I took my lamb that I had won with county fair down to the state fair hoping to be competitive in my breed. My stress level is usually very high when were at state fair because it’s a hard competition and I liked to be pushed to the edge. I was doing good keeping myself together this time since I got most of the crying out during county fair. Show day was just right around the corner the only thing we could do now was keep focused and be ready for the big dance.
I started out the day showing all of my black faced market lambs which was a crossbred, Suffolk which has an all black head and legs with no wool on either the head or legs, and then lastly my Hampshire. So far my day wasn’t going as planned my crossbred stood 5th in class, my Suffolk stood 2nd and the toughest class of the day with my Hampshire I stood 3rd. I had one more chance at trying to make it into the grand drive. I had a really nice Dorset market lamb and I was excited to see what happened. Amber and I were in the same class I ended up 2nd and she finished 3rd behind me. So I had the chance at possibly being reserve champion Dorset. I went back out and was nothing more than hoping for the best outcome to end my show career. I quickly learned as the judged talked that I wasn’t going to make it. After he shook the winner’s hands I walked out of the ring with my mom waiting for me at the exit. I walked half way back to the pens before the tears started to roll. I put the lamb away and I did the unthinkable I broke down and had a panic attack because at that moment I realized it was all over. I cried and yelled that it was over I wasn’t ready to give it all up, something that consumed my life for ten years was over and I had nothing else to do but move on and go to college.
Looking back you wish for nothing more than to hold onto 4-H forever because we make the best memories while making new friends along the way. When I look back on my 4-H career I realize all of the responsibilities and life skills I had gained along with the hard labor and long hours involved in taking care of livestock. The emotions are different for everyone as you can see, we all dedicate ourselves to the project in our own ways and it leaves a ever lasting impression on us for a life time. So don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and ask to join a card game because someday they could be your best friend and the only time you see them is during the fair which makes it even more bitter sweet. I also learned the best way I can give back to a organization that gave me so much was to get involved with our county 4-H program. I now enjoy 4-H from the other side of the fence as I enjoy watching my two younger sisters show and make their own memories.
4-H just isn’t for farm kids, anyone can get involved in the 4-H program no matter where you come from. Someone is out there wanting to help another young child achieve their dreams and let them share in the experiences that they may of had while in 4-H. The 4-H Mission statement is as followed “4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.” Our 4-H program is ran by adults who care about our future and there is more than just livestock and blue ribbons. There’s something for everyone from rocket science to baked goods. Not every 4-H program is the same throughout the United States but we all share the same passion for the program that gave us everything and then some.
My name is Ashley Ferrell, I come from the great state of Indiana and rein from the town of Columbia City. I’m currently a Junior Ag Business major with a minor in Animal Science here at Western Illinois University. At WIU I’m involved in Hoof ‘n Horn, Ag Mech. Club and a member of the Sigma Alpha sorority where I hold the position of Public Relations. I also assist in many activities that our Whitley County 4-H Sheep club does with members every spring and summer. I grew up on our family farm where my dad grows wheat, corn, soybeans, and also grows alfalfa for livestock. We used to run a small feed lot of corn fed beef cattle. I now spend my time working on the farm while I’m home from college. As I stated earlier I have two younger siblings who are my best friends Amber who is now 18 and finishing her last year of 4-H and then my little sister Brianna who recently turned 11 and is getting ready for her 2nd year in 4-H. My family enjoys attending livestock shows and spending more time than not doing something agriculture related. Thanks for taking the time to read my post! If you have any questions about 4-H I’m more than happy to answer them. firstname.lastname@example.org