The group of 4-H kids who show up most Wednesday afternoons at Carvel Cheves’ farm in Bunn to work on getting their sheep ready for the show ring are not much different than hundreds of 4-H clubs across the state. You have a mix of first-timers, the somewhat experienced and the more experienced. Some kids seem shy and quiet, some are jokesters and others fit somewhere in between. Some of the children live in suburban neighborhoods, while others live on farms.
The 4-H program strives to prepare young people for success in life by teaching them life skills through many different experiences. Learning what it takes to care for an animal teaches the children tremendous responsibility. Along the way they build confidence as they learn new skills or share what they know with others.
The 4-H motto is “To make the best better,” and its slogan is “Learn by doing.” The kids at Carvel Cheves’ farm are doing just that, learning by doing.
We will be following this group of 4-H youngsters and their parents as they get ready for the N.C. State Fair livestock shows. We will tell their story in updates on the blog, highlighting their successes and sharing what they are learning through the process.
The children you will meet along the way are Emily and Dustin Best, Joey Moore, Ted and Jacob Noe, Isabel and Sophia Nobles, Madison Pippin, Daniel Barker, and Wesley, Faith, Luke and Carter Dunbar. They range in age from 7 to 18. The group leader is Alesia Moore, who is mom to Joey and has been involved with 4-H programs since she was a child.
The farm: A shady porch and relaxing setting
The Cheveses’ Bunn farm has been in the family for more than 100 years. Across the street from where the kids gather each week is the family homeplace, proudly displaying a Century Farm Family sign by the walkway.
Across the street is the brick ranch where Carvel and his wife, Carol, live. A shop building houses storage for feed and supplies; the other half keeps tools and wool, canned goods and everything in between. Behind the shop are the stalls and pens where the sheep are rounded up and the kids gather to put a halters on their animals and get to work.
Tall, shady trees stand in front of the shop, providing a break from the sun and offering some comfort from the heat. Picnic tables dot the lawn, and swings and Adirondack chairs line the covered porch just off the shop. Every Wednesday after the kids finish working with their animals, everyone heads to the porch to enjoy lemonade and something sweet before heading home.
Cheves raises meat breed sheep to sell. The family also sells fresh eggs. His two grandsons, Ted and Jacob Noe, work on the farm and are learning about the business from their grandfather. Although just 16 and 11 years old, respectively, Ted and Jacob are longtime participants in the livestock shows. Each week the brothers, along with Joey Moore, 14, offer help and advice to the youngsters who are just getting started. Like the Noe brothers, Moore has been involved with 4-H for much of his life — in his case, since he was 5 years old.
Isabel, Sophia, Emily and Dustin are all new to the show ring, but are excited about showing sheep through 4-H. Isabel and Sophia had never even touched a farm animal before. “I was surprised how much they shed,” Isabel said, brushing sheep fibers from her leg during one visit to the farm.
The girls live in a subdivision that doesn’t allow farm animals, so 4-H gives them the opportunity to experience something new.
Emily and Dustin’s family has horses and a pig, plus some pets, but neither has ever worked with sheep.
Cheves is a longtime supporter of youth livestock shows at the State Fair, and in 2010 he was inducted into the N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame. Many of the youngsters borrow sheep from Cheves to take into the show ring. He is more than happy to loan them so the children get to experience what it is like to raise and care for a farm animal. It takes a tremendous amount of work to get an animal ready for the show ring. Working with the animal, helping get it in condition, making sure you are feeding it properly to optimize growth, and bonding with the animal so it works with you and not against you are all important.
Part of the learning process involves what Cheves calls “sweat equity.” The kids will learn how to trim the sheep’s hooves, will learn about deworming, will help clean and may help shear the animal.
The 4-Hers picked their sheep at the end of June and have been working with them steadily ever since. Alesia Moore says it is difficult to tell which sheep will be easy to work with and which may be more difficult. “They’re all wild in the beginning,” she explains.
Isabel’s sheep, which she calls Bobbit, has proven to be one of the more spirited in the group. For a beginner that will present challenges, but each week she gently nudges and pulls and works to get Bobbit to follow her lead. In contrast, her sister Sophia’s sheep, Daisy, easily follows her around.
On one visit to the farm, the kids trimmed hooves, with some of the younger ones watching as Ted, Jacob and Joey demonstrated the cutting technique. Cheves reminds everyone that the shears are very sharp and they need to be careful.
Being older and taller definitely helps with the process. The kids sit their sheep on their rear haunches and lean them back against the legs of the person doing the trimming, also known as docking. Of course, they don’t ever move or even try to wiggle away.
Emily manages to get her sheep in a good position and starts working on a hoof. “This is similar to what I see my dad do with the horses,” she said. Joey offers a few pointers on ways to keep the sheep docked and how much needs to be trimmed from the hoof. For a first effort, she has done well.
Before long, all the hooves have been trimmed and the animals are released back into the field. Time to call it a day.
“It is difficult to know exactly what to expect in a show ring until you have been in there showing an animal,” Alesia Moore said. So to help the kids gain experience, they will compete in two shows prior to the State Fair. First up is the Four County Livestock Show in Oxford, followed by the Vance County Fair Show in early October.
Check back next week for an update from the first show.