Last weekend my children exhibited sheep at the All American Junior Sheep Show help at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson. This was a national show with exhibiters from most of the states representing several breeds of sheep. It was our first time to show on the national level and it was a great experience, if not a little humbling.
Isaac brought four of his Southdown sheep to the show. Isaac has had an appreciation for Southdown sheep for several years now. It all started with a whether named Rambo and has led to his own flock. Isaac has ten Southdown ewes that he received thanks to the Starter Flock program through the Kansas Sheep Association. The idea behind the Starter Flock was to help youth buy their own flocks and it has been a great experience for him.
We had been planning our trip to the All American for a couple of years now and Isaac purchased a yearling Southdown ewe through an on-line sale in Texas. Getting Texas Ruby home was an experience in and of itself and one that Isaac was responsible for. In addition to Ruby, Isaac exhibited three other lambs that originated in his small flock. We loaded them and Tatum’s sheep in the trailer and left for the show hopeful and excited, not knowing what to expect.
Tatum and I arrived on Thursday and got everything set up and the sheep washed. Isaac and Jennifer arrived late that night after they got off of work. Watching all the exhibiters and the sheep come in was an interesting experience in itself. We saw large show strings in shiny aluminum trailers with the farm name emblazoned on the side. Large entourages of people would unpack lots of sparkling equipment, put up banners and begin fitting the multitude of sheep.
On the other end of the spectrum we saw many trucks with homemade boxes in the back with a couple of sheep. No banners were displayed and most of their equipment bore the marks of being well-used. We fell into the wide spectrum of exhibiters much closer to the bottom than the top. Still, after surveying the competition Isaac felt pretty good about his small show string and began to get them ready for the show the next morning.
The next morning Isaac spent a great deal of time washing, clipping and working on his sheep. I was very proud of the way he fitted his sheep and with very little help from any of us adults. I have to admit that his sheep looked much better than they would have if I had fitted them. It amazed me just how much he had picked up about fitting over the years and how well he had applied it. The anticipation for the show had reached its peak and it was time for the first lamb to enter the show ring.
First up was Elliot, his ram, I must admit that I thought he looked very competitive out in the ring. However, the judge did not see things the way I did and Elliot finished fifteenth out of fifteen in his class. It was really disappointing, but we had to remember that he was competing with some of the best Southdown breeders. The other three lambs of Isaac’s got similar results, Isaac was very disappointed at this point. His sheep looked good but they just weren’t the type the judge was looking for.
Back at the pens I could tell he was a little down and I asked why. His response was that he could never compete with the larger farms that had more money and a staff of professional fitters. I thought about it for a minute and asked him if he had done the best job he could have done. He responded with a yes. Then I asked him if he was proud of the sheep. To this he answered that they were the type of sheep he wanted to raise and he was very satisfied with them. I then told him that because of this, he had had a successful show and he had received an even more important life lesson from the experience.
No matter what profession you go into there will always be someone with more money, talent or luck than you; happiness and contentment cannot be defined by being the most successful or winning first place. If that is what is most important to you, your life will be more frustrating than satisfying. The pursuit of success or first place is not a bad thing but it should not be the only thing. True happiness is found from doing the best you can with what you have. That was the lesson Isaac learned and in the end it will be more valuable than any prize or premium he could have won last weekend.