COLUMBIA — The air was filled with tension and glee Wednesday as friendly competition introduced children to the world of sheep and swine shows at the Boone County Fair.
Outside of the MFA Show Palace where the competition occurred, the fairgrounds were still empty, too early for visitors. The Ferris wheel stood still, and vendor booths stood uninhabited. In the section designated the MFA Show Palace was a gated arena where, precisely at 9 a.m., two children began walking with lambs in a chokehold.
“These are two nice ewes,” the competition’s judge, Chad Price, said. Price went on to position and reposition the sheep, feel their recently sheared wool, and pass his judgment.
After the next round, Kassie Rankin, 12, walked out of the arena with her lamb and a smile on her face as she approached her mother holding a blue ribbon. The night before, Kassie won grand champion of the South Down Sheep Show at the fairgrounds. Wednesday morning, she won the Reserve Champion title in the White Face Ewe competition and a 5th place blue ribbon for her Speckle Face Ewe Lamb.
This year’s fair was the first year Kody Walters, 8, participated in showing sheep. It is the first year he is eligible because of his age, and he says he’s been preparing for showing them for about five months.
Kody had his work cut out for him, as one lamb he was showing ran out from underneath him and tried to escape out of the arena. A woman at the gate harnessed the sheep and brought her back to Kody so she could continue to compete. Even though the sheep, which he affectionately called Megan, was 107 pounds to his small-framed 60, Kody handled the lamb like a pro for the rest of the showing.
“She’s crazy! It’s ‘cause she’s in heat though,” Kody said. “It felt weird when she got away.”
Kody said he spends three to four hours every day with his sheep, taking care of them and walking them to prepare them to be shown. He even helps shear them for the show.
“I get tired holding the clippers,” Kody explained.
Matt Schmidt, 19, has been showing sheep for 12 years. He says it’s a family tradition, and he’s the third generation to do so.
“I like sheep,” Schmidt said. “They’re calm, and they’re easy to work with and fun to be around. I think it’s something everybody needs to experience.”
In this show, sheep were categorized by breed. Each breed has its own judging criteria that can make or break the lamb’s career as a show sheep. The judge will look for those breed characteristics while judging, as well as basic criteria, including skeletal composition, muscle mass, wool quality and if the sheep is sound on its feet.
Lydia Tutt, 8, won Champion Dorsey Ewe and Reserve Champion Dorsey Ewe on Wednesday morning. She also shows breeding cattle and steer at the county fair.
“Leading (the sheep) is fun,” Lydia said. “They’re strong, so I try to use the lead rope.”
Lydia explained that she lives on a farm and spends about an hour each day taking care of the flock of sheep her dad started for her.
“They’re a lot like pets. But they can’t sleep with me like my dogs and cats,” Lydia said. “They have to stay outside.”
However, shearing doesn’t stop with sheep. Katryna Rankin, 15, sheared her swine for the Youth Swine Show on Wednesday evening.
Katryna had to shear her family’s swine, Dalia, Yahtzee, Babe and Dumbo, using clippers with a guard to make sure she didn’t cut anything too short.
Trevor Rowland, 7, sported a crème colored cowboy hat as he joined the other youngsters in Class 1 of the Youth Swine Show.
The air was musty with the odor of woodchips and the strong scent of suds and water.
Trevor has previously shown goats and cows and said he especially liked the method of directing the pigs.
“I got to whip ‘em. It was pretty easy,” Trevor said. Tugging at his sky blue shirt, Trevor said, “I’ve just been around a lot of animals.”
Haley Ray, 7, was in her third year showing animals at the fair.
Her pig, Belle, was born in February and is a cross-bred gilt. Haley named the animal after the heroine from Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast."
“I just enjoy watching my children do the things they enjoy. If you put a lot of hard work and effort in, you’ll reap the rewards,” her mother, Dena Ray, said.
The Ray family maintained the animals on their farm and kept up with feeding regimens to prepare for the event. Dena said she recognizes many of the people involved in the showing.
“It’s more like a family reunion than something competitive,” Ray said.
Haley will be in 4-H next year, but for now she received a goodie bag for her hard work that included a memo pad, glow sticks and Pixy Stix.
Haley’s grandmother, Cynthia Ray, was also quite proud of her.
“It’s a new experience for them, before they have to talk to a judge. It’s a chance to get them in the limelight,” Cynthia said.