'A good place to be'

11-year-old Stock Show winner says ranch life is the life for him

Kelly McLaughlin thinks hard work is satisfaction enough. It's a value she's passing down to her sons, Darren McLaughlin, 11, and Dustin McLaughlin, 4.

"If they learn that, they'll do OK in life," she said.

If they happen to succeed at what they're doing, that's a bonus.

Darren celebrated his bonus last week with a first-place ranking in his market lamb class at National Western Stock Show in Denver.

"I felt excited," Darren said. "Wind basically got knocked out of me. I usually don't place that good at that big of a show."

But Darren isn't new to the arena. He showed his first lamb at age 2 at a local pee wee jackpot show.

At the Moffat County Fair in August, Darren won reserve champion market lamb, reserve champion junior showman and fifth place in the round robin competition. With his swine, he took third place overall and second place in each of his classes.

At the Colorado State Fair, he placed first, fourth and 11th place in his lamb classes.

Then at the Stock Show, Darren showed Wild Thing, who took 11th in the heavyweight class and Picky, who earned first in the 116- to 123-pound class.

Darren's neighbor on Moffat County Road 103 north of Craig, Jerica DeLong, 10, also earned first place in her market lamb class at Stock Show.

"I think it's a good testament to the kids in this county," Kelly said. "This community should be proud of those accomplishments. It's nice to see agriculture is coming to the foreground for some families."

With a first-place finish came the opportunity to sell Picky in the auction.

The lamb sold for $2,900. Darren estimated he spent $400 on feed and supplies for the lamb.

The profit is to be placed in Darren's college fund, and some of it may be used to help buy a trailer for the family to haul sheep.

Youths who place first or second in their class are also entered into the Sheep Premier Exhibitor contest.

The contest awards points for class ranking, carcass evaluation and showmanship. Exhibitors also complete an essay, interview, quiz and speech. The exhibitor with the highest score at the end wins $2,000 for first place or $1,000 for second.

The McLaughlin family -- Kelly, her husband, Willard, and their two sons -- operates McLaughlin/Griffin Sheep and travels to jackpot shows throughout the summer.

Darren said he enjoys seeing new places, and his mother likes the skills he's learning.

"It's teaching him travel safety -- to check in and out of a hotel and read a map," Kelly said. "Craig's a wonderful place, and I'm glad we live here. But I want them to see more of the country."

And a win at Stock Show is icing on the cake.

"If you're in the livestock world, National Western Stock Show is one of the premier events," Kelly said. "The nation brings their best."

And in the down time between shows, Darren can be found in the barn tending to the family's many animals. He loves life on the ranch.

"If you're willing to work," he said, "it's a good place to be."

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