4-H provides numerous life experiences

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
Three-year-old Nicholas, from Southbury, rides Zippy. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Three-year-old Nicholas, from Southbury, rides Zippy. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Katie Bombria was a bit hot. The 9-year-old, a student at Horace Porter School in Columbia, was dressed in wool, despite temperatures in the mid-80s. She wore a wool skirt and a wool poncho hand-knit by a friend. The outfit was part of Katie’s presentation at the Windham County 4-H Fair, held July 29-31 at the Brooklyn Fairgrounds. She had just finished showing her sheep in the ring, for which she’d received the Supreme Champion ribbon. The award, she said, was given for her own appearance, her animal’s appearance, her ability to handle her animal, and other factors.

The preparation to enter the ring involved a number of activities. “We have to pick all the hay out of their wool,” said Katie. “We have to trim them so they’re the right shape.” During the year, Katie attends regular meetings of the Windham Woolies, a 4-H group focused primarily on sheep husbandry.

Other members of the Windham Woolies included Rebecca Runkle and her sister, Rachel. Rebecca recently graduated from Lyman Memorial High School. She plans to attend college in the fall to study engineering. Rachel is going into her junior year. Both sisters were preparing their sheep for competition in the ring. Preparation differs a bit according to the breed of the sheep. Rebecca’s sheep, Iris, for example, is a Border Leicester, a sheep bred for its wool. Iris’s coat was left long and wooly, to show off the quality of her coat. Rachel’s sheep, Caroline, is a Horned Dorset, a sheep bred for meat. Caroline’s coat was brushed out and clipped to show the contour of her body. The intent is to show that the animal will provide exemplary cuts of meat. Lucky for Caroline, however, her days aren’t numbered just yet. “She's a nice sheep,” said Rachel. “She was just bred, so she’s not going to be eaten soon.”

In the cow barn, 4-Hers prepared their cattle for showing. Melinda Buell, 15, and her sister Emily, 13, have been involved with Windham County 4-H for a number of years. They planned to show their cattle this year, including Belted Galloway mix Holly and her calf, Zeus. 4-H, said their mom, Judy, provides an opportunity for her kids that they cannot get from school. “They get to interact with kids with similar interests,” said Judy Buell. “Some of the kids at their schools have never even seen a cow before.”

4-H also provides experience with organization, as the entire fair is organized by club members. “We all kind of work together,” said Rachel McIntyre, superintendent of the beef cattle with Melinda Buell. Club members - who range in age from 8 to 19 - handle everything from setup and cleanup to hiring of judges and stalling of animals.

“This is also what it’s all about,” said Buell, watching McIntyre head over to help a younger girl who was struggling to move her reluctant calf. “She’s a first-time shower,” said Buell. “The older kids teach the younger kids.”

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