Livestock Show is family affair

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2008

CONWAY – Raising livestock is nothing new for the Harris family.

With eight chicken houses and a small herd of cattle, the family farm located outside of Conway is a thriving operation.

This time each year for the past nine years the family has another livestock enterprise; raising lambs for the Hertford-Northampton 4-H Livestock Show and Sale.

This year’s show on Wednesday, June 11 will be the final show for Ashley Harris, a recent graduate of All God’s Children’s Homeschool.

She started showing a year after oldest sister Ebony, a rising junior at North Carolina State majoring in Poultry Science, because “it seemed fun.”

“I like the experience,” explained Ashley, 17.

“Each year you learn something different even though you are raising the same type of animal because each animal is different.”

While it may be the final show for Ashley it will be the first time her six-year-old sister, Omoni, will exhibit in the show ring.

“She (Omoni) cried every year because everyone else had a lamb but her,” said their mother Evangeline.

“At first she was scared of them,” continued Evangeline and Omoni agreed.

“I was scared at first because they were jumping on me, but now they are comfortable with me and they don’t jump.”

In all, six Harris children will be participating in this year’s 4-H livestock show.

Jasmine, 16, will be defending her Grand Champion title while Ashley, last year’s Reserve Champion, Gabrielle and Shannon will try and claim the blue ribbon.

Omoni and Gregory Jr. will compete only in showmanship since they are less than nine years old, the age when 4-Her’s can compete in both market and showmanship classes.

Jasmine also has two Grand Champion ribbons, one for the lamb she raised last year and one for a heifer she showed despite being scared.

“I like showing the sheep because I’m scared of the other animals you can show,” she explained.

“I was scared of the heifer, but thought about it.

It was only going to be a couple of minutes in the ring so I just did it.”

She hasn’t conquered all her fears, however.

“I had hogs two years ago, but I wouldn’t even go in there because I was scared,” Jasmine said. “Ebony was doing all the work so daddy gave my hogs to her.”

Responsibility is just one of the reasons Evangeline feels it is important for the children to participate in the show.

“They learn responsibility not only for just the animal but also life skills,” she said.

“I like bringing them home, but then you have to do all the work,” said a smiling Gabrielle.

At age 11, Gabrielle has six shows under her belt and this year will be adding another skill to her resume when her dad, Greg, teaches her to shear sheep.

Gregory, 7, likes the lambs because “they are fun and they look pretty.”

He is in charge of feeding the lambs, including the lamb he’s named Brownie Mix, and gives them fresh water daily.

He gets a helping hand from younger brother Josiah, who at age four still has one year to go before he can show.

“Josiah has asked me every day since we brought the lambs home which one was his,” said Ashley.

“He already walks mine.”

Omoni added, “He pulls the docks for us (referring to the practice of pinching the tail head of the lamb to encourage it to walk) and helps keep the water bucket filled up.”

“I love the lambs,” exclaimed Josiah, who often climbs the fence to get in the pen.

Not all the Harris children think raising lambs is work.

At nine years old, Shannon admits it’s a lot of work, but it’s a fun kind of work.

She will be showing Dozer (short for bulldozer), named because “he was pushing on me and I was sliding on my boots.”

In addition to feeding and watering their animals, the children must also halter break their lambs.

This involves getting the lambs used to wearing a nylon rope halter and being led by the halter.

“We all go out at the same time to walk our lambs,” explained Gabrielle.

“Ashley’s lamb walks the best out of all of them,” interjects Gregory, “but we can’t walk them when it’s really hot because they have wool.”

With so many years of experience, the older siblings are starting to teach the younger children how to raise and show their animals.

“With the older three children I had a lot of work.

Now they know it so they teach the little ones,” said Evangeline.

Omoni jumped in with an example of how her sisters help.

“The first time holding the leash I held on at the end when I was supposed to hold it right here,” she said, holding her hand against her head.

“Ebony told me what to do.”

When they put the lambs back in the pen, the kids have learned they must also put a lock on the gate, otherwise the lambs may figure a way out.

Ashley recounted a story when the lambs visited their grandparent’s home down the road several years ago.

“We had been working the lambs and we’d had some sibling rivalry over who would feed and water them and I guess the lock didn’t get put on,” she recalled. “We went to bed and the next morning around 6:30 my granddaddy called and asked ‘Are you missing six sheep?’

I said no, that they were in the pen last night, but when I looked they were gone.”

The livestock show is only one 4-H opportunity the family takes advantage of.

The oldest three girls have all won trips to National 4-H Congress in Atlanta and both Ebony and Ashley have attended National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C.

The kids have participated in stockman’s contests, presentations, county council and a number of other activities.

According to Jasmine, her experience in 4-H has helped shape her career goals.

“I hope to attend East Carolina University and major in Nursing and Foods and Nutrition.

Miss Rose (Massey) got me into that,” she said.

Massey serves as the County Extension Director for Northampton County and has Food and Nutrition programming responsibilities.

“By us homeschooling it gives them a lot of extra activities outside of school.

It keeps them real busy,” said Evangeline.

“4-H has been a blessing.

It’s hard to describe.

If kids would just get involved they would see it has so much to offer them.”

For more information on the Hertford-Northampton 4-H Livestock Show or any 4-H programs, contact the Northampton office at 534-2711 or the Hertford County office at 358-7822.