COLUMBIA — Ray George sat in a camping chair outside the sheep and goat barn at the Boone County fairgrounds smoking a cigar. He was one of the few people not watching the breeding sheep show Wednesday morning inside the MFA Show Pavilion.
"I get nervous," George said about his granddaughter, Morgan George. "When she shows, I leave. It worked last night."
Tuesday night, Morgan George showed her market sheep, winning senior showmanship and grand champion market lamb, so Ray George thinks his superstitions are legitimate.
Morgan George, 19, has been showing animals since she was 8 after the hobby was passed down through her father, Kyle George, who also started showing when he was 8. The family has been in the "sheep business" ever since.
"It was bred into me," Morgan George said.
The Hallsville family was in full attendance for the fair Wednesday, as they have been for the past 30 years. They've started considering it a family vacation. Elaine George, Morgan George's grandmother, has held the position as the Missouri 4-H sheep leader since her granddaughter started showing.
"I love 4-H and everything it offers for kids," Elaine George said. "They learn not only the projects that they're taking, but they learn a lot of life skills."
"They're just like a pet," Morgan George said about her sheep. "I don't think people realize how much you have to do even before the show or at home."
Raising sheep means grooming them, feeding them and walking and exercising them. It's a yearlong process, Elaine George said. Once it is show time, sheep are judged on the firmness of their backs, butt and their "length of loin," Morgan George said. They're also judged on how they walk and their body shape.
Kyle George said being involved in 4-H has taught his and other children life skills like responsibility. "And it keeps them out of trouble," he said.
Morgan George certainly stays busy. She is an MU student majoring in occupational therapy, working two jobs and showing pigs and sheep at both the Boone County Fair and Missouri State Fair. She said she couldn't raise her animals without the help of her family.
"I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her," Morgan George said about her grandmother. "If anyone needs a leader for anything, she's the one to go to."
Morgan George has had her fair share of wins and losses, but over the years, she saved up enough earnings to buy her first car and put herself through her first year at MU.
"Morgan works her tail off," Kyle George said. "She likes the drive and has the competitive edge. But you've got to lose some to make it better."
Morgan showed four sheep in the black face class — all told, placing first, second, fourth and fifth.
"Winning isn't everything," Angie George, Morgan George's mother, said. "It's just nice to see them rewarded for their hard work."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.