Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
(Published Aug. 23, 2007, 3:54 p.m.)
Walking up and down aisle after aisle of the animal barns, fairgoers admire the different animals and their qualities. They may stop and ask questions or just share their thoughts among themselves-most of them overwhelmingly positive.
Even so, they sometimes have a hard time understanding 4-H-ers' ability to raise an animal from infancy, care for it as if they are its mother and father, then sell them in the meat animal sale at the end of the fair.
The answer is nothing mystifying-it's very very hard.
"I cry every year when I see them go," said one 4-H member on the topic.
"So do I," chimed in her mother.
But it is reality. We eat animals. Kids know this about the meat animal project long before they're old enough to compete.
That doesn't mean it isn't hard; it's simply part of the commitment they took on.
My son, Nathan Wright, is 13 and in his sixth year of 4-H. This is his first year in the sheep project as a member of the LaGrange 4-H.
His two sheep have become members of our family over the spring and summer. They've been coddled, kept healthy, fed nothing but the very best food and painstakingly schooled every single day.
They've also broken three gates believing they should be allowed into the backyard with the chickens and dog, blatantly defied authority and left their "grandparents" bruised when they were left to babysit so hard-working "Dad" could have a night off.
"It's been a lot of work," Nathan said. "The regular stuff is fine, but I hate it when something happens."
Those "something happens"-injuries, equipment failures, weather extremes and 100 other things-pop up from nowhere, turning a regular day into long hours of work to correct the problem.
The bad days are as much a part of the project as they are part of life-and some of the greatest lessons of 4-H animal projects.
The good days that stand out in Nathan's mind are the days since he's gotten them trained in leading and setting up, he said.
Thankfully the good days by far outweigh the bad, and in the end Nathan has learned lessons in life, death and responsibility that he could never have learned from a book.
But the fact that they'll be gone after the fair has been in the back of Wright's mind from the beginning.
It's part of the commitment.
And commitment it is. Every morning while many of his buddies are sleeping in, he's up at 7 a.m. to feed his sheep and turkeys-his other meat animal project-breakfast, give them fresh water and let them out into the pasture.
Every evening it's the same process in reverse with multiple jobs throughout the day. Water is checked and freshened-at least twice as much on hot days-and usually at least two hours each day are spend exercising and training.
When a summer storm whips up, Wright is out there corralling his animals inside for safety.
After putting all of this time and work into something, it's natural for people to wonder if it's hard for the kids to give up their animals. And rest assured it is, but it's also part of the big picture of farming.
"It will be hard to get rid of them because I've had them for the whole summer," Wright said. "But that's what they were born for. It would happen anyway whether they were mine or not."
He's been in other animal projects and said goodbye at fair's end before, so he knows what's coming and has taken a few mental steps to prepare for it.
"I've tried not to get too attached to them," Nathan said. "I still have, but I didn't name them. Some people do."
IF YOU GO
What: Sheep show
When: Thursday, Aug. 30, 8 a.m.
Where: Sheep Barn at the
Walworth County Fairgrounds, Elkhorn
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