“It’s definitely different.”
– DAYNA ROWLAND
Sheep may look soft, fluffy and docile compared to horses and beef cattle, but for Dayna Rowland, there was still a bit of a learning curve.
Shortly before the wrap-up at StockFest 2009, the veteran of both the horse and beef 4-H clubs tried her hand at showing sheep as part of the Overall Grand Showmanship event at Brandon’s Keystone Centre Sept 25 to 27.
“I’d never even seen a sheep being shown until this weekend,” said Rowland.
The toughest part was the lack of a restraining device other than her own two hands, she said. That meant that if the animal decided to part company with the handler, the only option is to tighten one’s grip on its neck – preferably without choking it.
One particularly frisky sheep did manage to bolt, but it was quickly returned to the ring by amused spectators.
“It’s definitely different,” said Rowland, with a laugh.
The mix-up session, where 4-H members took turns showing other members’ animals, from horses to beef cattle to sheep, was “interesting,” added Julie Hamilton, a senior 4-H member.
“It was a neat experience for the little ones,” she said. “And yeah, you learn to appreciate the other aspects of 4-H.”
StockFest committee chair Diane Kovar said that the new event has given participants a good reason to mingle with other clubs, instead of just hanging around with familiar faces.
“It’s been interesting, the last two days,” she said during the event.
“Yesterday, if you went down to the horse barn, you’d see a sheep member leading a horse, just to check out the feel of it. And last night, there were beef members on their knees leading a sheep.”
Overall, the kinks that appeared in the first StockFest, held in June of last year, appear to have been ironed out, said Kovar.
Attendance was up, from 62 members last year to 83 this year.
The reasons for that vary, she said. It could be that the fall date fits members’ schedules better, or it could be that this year’s advertising campaign was more effective in reaching more people, who now through word of mouth are more familiar with the idea of combining all animal types into one event.
The combination of different species into one event seems to be a winner, especially given the need to reduce costs amid lower sponsorship funding, as well as the need to lighten the burden for 4-H volunteers.
Horse entries this year were much higher, she added, possibly because the fall date gave riders more time to get their mounts into shape for the competitions.
Renée Simcoe, a 4-H horse club member from Teulon, agreed on that point.
She added that the cooler fall weather suits her better rather than June. But the biggest reason for the better turnout was the lower fees for this year’s event.
Last year, the total cost for a stall and other fees came to $110, while this year it was just $40.
“Turnout is a lot better,” she said. “Last year was about the fees, mostly. They dropped the fees, then miraculously, there was a bunch more people.”
Kovar said that one disappointment this year came from the lack of attendance from the province’s dairy clubs, but that could be related to their dwindling numbers, as well as the fact that they tend to come from the eastern side of the province which may still be busy with the harvest after a wet year.
This year’s event was the first time that sheep and alpaca clubs were in attendance.
Pam Miller, who came to StockFest with her two daughters for the first time, said that combining the events makes sense, because often children from the same family belong to different 4-H clubs. For example, one of her daughters is a member of the Yorkton Wooly Wonders sheep club, while another belongs to the local 4-H horse club.
“The horse people usually stick together, so this is forcing them to interact,” she said. “It makes you get out of your zone.”
Jane Eddy, a sheep farmer also from Yorkton, said that having a multi-species StockFest makes the event more fun and interesting for everyone.
“Everybody likes to teach everybody else,” said Eddy. “I’m quite happy with that, because they all pick up good skills which they can then share with other members.”
Miller, herself a former beef rancher, joked that even though they might be mingling with the cattle folks, there’s no reason to let slip the secret that there’s more money to be made raising sheep.
“We don’t tell them that,” she said with a laugh. “If they want to keep beating their heads against the wall – that’s fine, they can keep doing that.”
Next year’s StockFest is scheduled again for the fall, running from Sept. 24 to 26. The members chosen at StockFest for the upcoming Agribition judging team were Erin Lewis, Renée Simcoe, and Jillian Ray. [email protected]