At 11 years old, Darren McLaughlin already knows what to look for in a quality lamb for his Moffat County Fair project.
"You can tell if you wait until they have grown out some and you sheer them," he said. "Look for a big rack, square hips and good loins."
McLaughlin, heading into his fourth year of competition at the fair, said the toughest part of his project so far was the lambing. He also gets up pretty early, too, he said.
"I'm up at about five in the morning, and there are lots of chores to get them ready," McLaughlin said. "When I come home from school, I change my shoes and go until 9 or 10 o'clock sometimes. I work them and feed them. I give them water and make sure everybody's happy."
In addition to lambs, McLaughlin also has goats being weighed for the fair. Goats can be stubborn, he said, especially trying to get them to lead.
"They need higher copper in their feed than the sheep," he said. "For the fair, you prep them and get them looking good. They are smaller and more stubborn than the lambs."
McLaughlin and dozens of other youngsters brought their lambs and goats to the Moffat County Fairgrounds on Wednesday afternoon for the first official weigh-in of animals bound for the fair in the fall.
Weights measured Wednesday will be compared to weights in the fall and used for rate-of-gain measurement in the competition.
Ear tags mark each animal after it steps off the scales, identifying it and its owner.
Cody Rogers is in his first year raising lambs for the fair, and he's enjoying it.
"I work them out and walk them every day," the 15-year-old said. "It's going pretty well. The girls (ewes) are nice to me, and I trained them well."
In her second year showing goats at the fair, 9-year-old Alexi Goodnow has chosen goats that are "long and tall and have lots of muscles."
Her sister, 12-year-old Makayla, has three more years experience at the fair and knows the rules very well.
"You can only weigh in three goats for the county fair, and show two," she said. "We work with two each night, and then alternate to the others."
The girls have goats to enter in the breeding and market lamb categories, and they have goats being weighed for state fair competitions as well.
Krista Shaffer has six years of experience showing horses, but this is her second year raising lambs.
"Lambs are harder," the 14-year-old said. "Horses I understand because I've been doing them a while."
Coming up with creative names for the lambs is an important part of the process for 11-year-old Savannah Meyring, who got her goats from her uncle, Pat Weber.
"This is Dr. Pepper and Crystal Light," she said. "This is only their third time on the halter, and they're doing very well."
She feeds the pair Purina Lamb Grower, and walks them to keep off fat and add muscle to the lambs. She and the lambs get plenty of exercise each day.
"It took an hour to catch them yesterday," Meyring said. "They got a good workout."
It's a lot of work and commitment for youngsters to raise an animal throughout the summer for showing at the fair in the fall, and McLaughlin puts it into perspective for newcomers.
"You want lambs, you've got to be willing to get up early and work with them," he said.
At the end of the fair, the award-winning animals are sold to bidders at the livestock auction, something that is not always easy on the owner who has worked closely with the animal all summer.
"We always cry," Alexi Goodnow said about the livestock sale.
"We cry for each other's goats," Makayla Goodnow added. "It's pretty bad. There's always a favorite one that you have to sell."
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or email@example.com.