Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Getting Ready For The Fair

One of the very rural aspects of life in Michigan's farm country for children and teens is participating in the summer 4-H and Junior Livestock programs. Kids get to raise an animal and take it to the fair. The kids learn about feeding animals and training them to be around people. They learn how to prepare the animal for the show ring and they come to realize that animals are raised for food.

Our friends, Don and Donna Wheeler, have been involved in guiding students through the animals raising process for many summers. Don is the local agriculture teacher at the Laker Schools. Their daughter, Jenny Wheeler Parker, also a teacher, invited our grandson Finn over to their farm one morning this week. "Bring him over to see the animals," Jenny said. Seeing the animals at Wheeler's Broken Wheel Ranch means that the animals will be let out of their pens for a walk around the yard.

Finn wasn't too sure about the sheep even though Jenny's little niece gave Finn a convincing demonstration of hanging on to the sheep's halter. All three of our now grown up children showed sheep at the fair, and we had a good time talking about how different the showing patterns are for kids now. Twenty years ago, kids did not use a halter on sheep at all. We had lots of run away animals at the fair. Now halters are common and there are far fewer loose sheep running in the barns.

We made sure that Finn stayed back from the big 1100 pound steer that Jenny's stepson James Parker is readying for the show ring. That steer, whose name is Uno, is a beautiful, but very big animal. Usually kids start by showing a small animal and then progress to handling the larger calves and steers.

What Finn really liked, though, was guiding the pigs around the Wheeler's yard. Jenny gave him a few pointers on how to tickle the animals with the show stick so that the pig keeps moving. Finn caught on quickly. He helped give the pigs their daily workout and then helped to herd the three pigs right back into their pen in the barn.

We all fell in love with the playfulness of the Wheeler's one goat. A very agile animal, the goat managed to pull a few green apples from the lower limbs of an apple tree. Donna reminded us that, worldwide, goats are the most common meat animal. Small and easy to feed, these critters provide protein sustenance for many populations across the planet.

Chasing pigs around a back yard is fun. That's true, but time spent with farm animals is so much more. The exposure to farm animals begins the thinking process about the contribution that livestock make to humans. Those hours and days spent training a steer or pigs or sheep or goats become a basic educational experience , part and parcel of rural life in Michigan's Thumb.

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