COLUMBIA — Wind blew through an open barn full of sheep at the Boone County Fair on Thursday as dark gray clouds rolled through the sky. Newly sheared sheep with soft suede skin bleated occasionally, but mostly lazed idly on the ground.
A common scene at the Boone County Fair represents a special, intergenerational affair for one group of mid-Missouri families that raises sheep.
The Hallsville Sheep Project comprises members of the Hallsville, Shaw-Harg and Centralia 4-H sheep projects. A tightly-knit group, most of the families have been showing sheep in 4-H for more than one generation.
This year's group is made up of 12 kids who meet once a month at the Hallsville Fairgrounds to learn the intricacies of raising sheep. Parents attend every meeting too.
"With all the sheep backgrounds, it's a lot of knowledge we can pass on to these kids," Hallsville Sheep Project leader Elaine George said.
Monthly programs include training demonstrations, lessons on sheep anatomy and seminars teaching children how to market the animals they've raised. Participants are between 8 and 18.
"The kids like the meetings. We make it fun," George said.
George has been leading the sheep project for 38 years now. She started when her son was 8.
"My father gave each each one of his grandchildren a steer to show with. My son didn't want to show steer; he wanted to show sheep," George said. Her son was small at age 8. George said he liked sheep because he could handle them. Instead of a steer, his grandfather got him six ewes and a ram.
There weren't many people in the area who showed sheep, so George volunteered to lead the group, relying on the help of others. Since then, all her children and grandchildren have shown sheep at the Boone County Fair.
George said many of the families in her sheep project are at least three generations into raising sheep. She estimates that in certain years up to 80 percent of the members had parents who were involved with sheep. Some of the parents know each other from raising sheep together in childhood.
"One year at the fair, we did a display board with pictures of parents showing sheep and their kids showing sheep," George said. "It was interesting. The kids got a kick out of it."
Her own granddaughter, 18-year-old Morgan, has shown sheep for 11 years. She is now in her bittersweet final 4-H season. She likes having her grandmother as sheep leader.
"She reminds me to do things," Morgan said. 4-H has been a major part of her life, and she said she will continue to raise sheep as a member of the National FFA Organization.
Morgan has made a lot of a money selling her 4-H livestock, even enough to buy herself a car. The most she ever made at the fair was $2,700 from selling a grand champion hog at the buyers' auction.
"The buyers in this county are very generous with our youth," George said. "Our kids are very lucky."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.