4-H’ers on the Lamb
No, they aren’t running from trouble. Instead, potential 4-H’ers across the county are running to farms supplying show stock lambs in search of just the right 4-H project. The producers of show stock have the space, buildings, equipment and/or time necessary to breed and raise lambs for sale to 4-H’ers looking for a project and who don’t have the means or desire to house a flock of their own. Those producers not only provide animals to help keep a young person’s 4-H dream alive, they help keep the whole 4-H tradition alive, which is a source of pride within the industry.
“I think (4-H) is extremely important,” said Mark Overman of Overman Club Lambs in Eaton, Colo. Overman, with a current flock of about 400 sheep, has been raising show stock lambs for 27 years and selling them across the country from California to Kentucky and everywhere in between. “(And) not just for kids that are going to go and be agricultural based. I think (4-H) is a valuable tool to teach kids responsibility and dedication to something; if they start something they need to finish something,” he added with confidence. “4-H teaches work commitment; it’s a job for a lot of these kids. Even if they’re not going to go on and go into agriculture as a career, I think it teaches them values and things they can apply anywhere. That’s the important thing. It teaches kids a lot of good values about responsibility and work ethic and everything else.”
“(4-H) is very important,” agreed fellow lamb producer Matt Summers of Summers Show Lambs in Bennett, Colo. The 29-year-old Summers started in the show stock lamb business at the age of 14, starting with five sheep at his grandfather’s house and presently cares for a flock of 70 that helps serve the needs of current 4-H’ers.
“4-H is totally different these days than what it started out as,” described Summers of the changing demographics and needs of families taking part in 4-H these days. “It used to start out as people raising their own animals and showing them and they went home with what they had. That’s just how it was. (Now) guys like me are raising them and selling them to other people that want to do the 4-H part of it but don’t have the space or the time or the resources or whatever to raise them themselves. There is so much money involved in it, now,” he stated regarding a difference between 4-H competitions of the past and present. “To win the state fair as a lamb, you’re talking about $20,000, which is a lot of money to a lot of people.”
“It’s extremely competitive,” added Overman to the subject. “If you are going to go and try to win, it’s extremely competitive. It’s a family sport … because it’s no different than having your kids in sports. It takes as much time as playing sports. These kids that are winning, they dedicate their summer to feeding, showing, taking care of, managing and grooming their animals.”
With show stock sales occurring from the end of March through April, families search for a lamb to purchase through magazines and websites like http://www.CubLambPage.com and then usually purchase the animals at 2-4 months of age. Properly fed, maintained and exercised throughout the summer, a lamb can bring home a ribbon and some pride for everyone involved in the process, including the show stock producer who sold the lamb in the first place.
“It makes you feel great and it’s rewarding,” said Overman about the feeling he gets when he hears a buyer’s lamb has done well at the fair. “When a kid does well, then you feel good about it.”
“That’s why you do it,” agreed Summers “You’re raising to get winners and it’s always a good feeling.”
On top of hearing about a buyer’s good fortunes at fair time are the pleasures show stock producers have in their jobs.
“The best part of it for me is just raising quality livestock,” offered a thoughtful Summers concerning a primary positive for him in the lamb business. “It’s nice to go out to your corrals and look at your animals and see there is a quality about them. You can go to a feedlot and look at a pen of sheep or cattle or whatever and they are all just livestock, but you’re raising show animals and there is a little something different about them that you kind of enjoy. It’s also fun to meet the people and go to the sales and travel around,” he continued, ticking items off in his mind he enjoyed about his side business. “When you’re getting ready to lamb it’s always something to look forward to. When you have bought a couple of new bucks for the year and you are excited to see what they’re having, it’s something to always look forward to, as well.”
“The most important to me is the social aspect of it,” said Overman when queried what he liked best about his job in the show stock lamb industry. “Meeting new people, meeting new parents, meeting good parents. And financially, it’s a great job. (But) the most rewarding?” he asked out loud before answering. “Probably just trying to do a good job and produce a good product and having a family be successful.”
With such positive dedication to the business of providing quality lambs for families in search of a successful project, Overman and Summers are representative of most producers within their industry who haven’t lost sight of how important 4-H can be in shaping a young man or woman into a thriving adult.
“A lot of people approach you and want (a lamb) to be a money making project,” disclosed Overman. “It can be a money making project, but at the same time, it’s a project, and what 4-H was set up about was spending time with your family together doing something. It’s no different than going boating for the weekend or playing golf or anything else,” he said with conviction. “A lot of people have lost sight of that, I think. It makes you feel good to know a kid worked his project and did well and it all paid off.”
“I think (4-H) is still important because it instills responsibility and it will help kids learn about money and the value of money,” said Summers. “I hope 4-H never goes away. It should always be around for the agriculture families that enjoy it. For the more urban areas, a lot of the kids, that is one thing they look forward to all summer is going to the state fair.”
For anyone in search of a 4-H project next year that will carry them all the way to the county fair; while there are plenty of options available, the best way to avoid summer trouble might be to go on the lamb.
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