In the darkness of the nearly empty show barn at the Moffat County Fairgrounds, 13-year-old Angie Charchalis struggled to control Hal, her 5-month-old lamb whose nervousness at being led caused him to jump up and sideways in an attempt to break her hold.
"It's really fun," she said.
Despite the challenges, that's the reason Charchalis has been working with sheep in the 4-H market sheep program for four years.
Charchalis has three sheep she's training for show at the Moffat County Fair and says by far, she expects Rosemary to give the best performance.
"She likes me," Charchalis said.
Teaching the lambs to docilely follow their handler and getting them to be friendly are two of the most challenging aspects of the program, she said. Most of the sheep are nice and eager to please, but some, like Hal, are spooked by the pressure and presence of so many people.
Sometimes the challenges of the program and the time the youth invest are frustrating and cause them to think longingly of less arduous activities and more leisure time, but never for long.
"It's a lot of work," said Natasha Chapman, 13. "Sometimes I think 'oh why did it do this. I'm never going to do this again,' but I really like it."
Youth aged 8 to 18 can participate in the market sheep program. There are nine now who are preparing for their ultimate trial -- the fair.
Participants chose their lambs in April when the animals were 6 to 8 weeks old. They visit different Moffat County breeders get advice on choosing the right lamb from their adult and junior leaders. They talk to the breeders and make their choice based on body structure, eye appeal and personality.
Participants then spend two to three hours a day feeding, exercising and breaking the lambs to lead.
"It's an animal that has essential diet requirements," Balstad said. "If the youth wants, they can put a lot of time in to make it a great market animal and enhance it for show and the carcass contest."
Breaking the lambs to lead and getting them used to being handled in a structured way is the most difficult part of the program.
"It looks way easy when more experienced people do it,"
When her dad, who worked with lambs for 12 years, broached the idea at dinner more than two years ago, Chapman said she thought it would be fun. Her opinion hasn't changed in two years.
"You really learn responsibility," she said.
Raising and training the animals is a commitment that if done correctly leads to blue ribbons which mean the sale and eventual slaughter of an animal that has become like a pet to each participant.
"They go through the whole gamut of emotions," said Nate Balstad, CSU Moffat County 4-H extension agent.
The program's adult leader, Sandy Buckner, said selling their animal is hard on most of the kids, but that's their ultimate goal and the reason they spend hours calculating the right amount of feed and exercising the sheep to develop muscle tone.
"They usually don't think about the sale until the end," Buckner said. "They raise a product for consumption and in the end, that's the goal, but these kids get pretty attached to their lambs."
Not only do the kids get attached to their lambs, the lambs get attached to their handlers.
"When we're gone, mom and dad have to feed and walk them," Chapman said. "They're (the sheep) kind of pains in the butts then."
The lessons learned in achieving that goal are priceless, she said.
"It's hard, but there are so many things these animals teach these kids," she said. "(The care of the animals) is totally rewarding because the animals teach them so many rewarding things. It sets them up for life."
In addition to their daily responsibilities, the youth meet once a week to weigh and work their sheep. They weigh them to determine the amount of feed the animals should have and can create a formula that puts the animal at a target weight for the fair.
"They can really develop their sheep into pretty well-developed animals," Buckner said. "They're going for lean and well-defined, but different judges want different things."
Twice a week, Charchalis walks her lambs up and down the county road leading to her house. On other days, she has her animals do sprints.
Each animal is different. Some love the exercise, some don't.
"Most lambs just love it," Buckner said. "It's so much fun to watch them because they're so excited to do it."
Youth can chose to travel to different Jackpot contests around the state to give themselves and their lambs experience in the show ring.
"They can get out and meet people and perfect their skill and their lambs," Buckner said. "It's really good experience."
One of the market sheep program participants, Katrina Snowden earned reserve champion in market at a contest in Walden. Another, Carissa Maneotis, has won in showmanship several times.
Each time, the winning youth has called Buckner to share the news.
"I love those calls," she said. "It's way cool when they come out of the show ring and say 'look what I did.'"
Buckner expects to see great things from her "kids" at fair.
"They're doing awesome," she said. "They're working their lambs pretty hard."
Chapman's goal is to take grand champion at fair "but that's everybody's goal, so I'll just do my best," she said.
Charchalis said she just wants to do the best she can. That includes getting the headstrong Hal to let her lead him.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Aug. 6: 10 a.m. to noon -- weigh in of market sheep at the east end of the barn
5 p.m. -- Junior division sheep showmanship contest, open division peewee showmanship, open division youth showmanship, and junior and open division market sheep show.
Aug. 10: 1 p.m. -- Sheep lead show
Aug. 14: 6:30 p.m. -- Carcass contest