Hard work and unpredictability was evident during each of the livestock shows staged over three consecutive days in the Bartholomew County 4-H Pavilion this week. But while a number of 4-H’ers had entries in two or more shows Tuesday through Thursday, different types of animals required each youngster to exhibit different sets of skills and knowledge, as well as put forth different levels of dedication, in their ultimate quests for Grand Champion honors.

Barrow Show 

Almost 300 swine, ranging from 174 pounds to 331 pounds, were judged in 41 classes during Tuesday’s annual 4-H Barrow Show.

As a result, the livestock pavilion was crammed with hundreds of spectators, with many arriving early with lawn chairs to secure the best view of the competition.

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With two to six animals being displayed at a time, event judge Lynsee Pullen of Cass County carefully studied each pig for such traits as shape, muscle tone and flexibility.

For those unfamiliar with livestock terms, barrows are male pigs neutered at a young age to lower hormone levels, causing the animal to gain weight and grow more quickly.

While barrows, raised purely for meat, tend to be less aggressive than intact boars, they remain — as 10-year-old Austin Campbell put it — “pretty ornery.”

Nevertheless, the White Creek Elementary student said he felt more confident handling his 215-pound crossbred barrow this year than his did with last year’s entry.

Although younger 4-H’ers often try to mask their insecurities, pigs tend to misbehave when confronted by inexperienced child handlers, 17-year-old Brayden Burbrink said.

“These animals can sense how you feel,” said Burbrink, a four-year exhibitor who attends CSA New Tech High School. “If you are anxious, they’ll get anxious too.”

Confidence in handling powerful and unpredictable barrows that weigh more than exhibitors comes only with experience, as well as learning from other people, Burbrink said.

At one point Tuesday, a concerned adult stepped forward and gave one exceptionally ornery pig a hard clobber to the head, which appeared to provide the animal with the proper attitude adjustment.

Cameron Naylor, a two-year exhibitor entering fifth grade at CSA Lincoln, also had to take similar actions with one of his three pigs this week.

Cameron’s 230-pound Duroc won second place in his class Tuesday, but the 10-year-old said he felt no disappointment after receiving a Grand Champion ribbon with his 291-pound entry in Monday’s 4-H Gilt Show.

Sheep show

About 160 spectators watched 96 entries compete Wednesday in 25 different classes during the Bartholomew County 4-H Sheep Show.

With 15 years of raising sheep under his belt, veteran event judge Trent Gray of Rushville was most interested in each animal’s breeding potential.

Besides a ewe’s overall composition, the females are also judged on structural correctness to determine their ability to care for their offspring, said Lindsey Murphy, a 10-year 4-H member who showed sheep for eight years.

The average weight of each ewe and ram is more that 100 pounds less that the pigs, so it’s easy to assume the sheep might be comparatively more docile.

But that’s a wrong assumption.

Quite often, a ewe would rear up on her hind legs for several seconds like a kangaroo — or stop suddenly and refuse to budge like a stubborn mule.

But none of that seemed to faze Layne Hoeflinger. While the Rockcreek Elementary School student is only 10 years old, she is in her sixth year of showing sheep at the fair.

While admitting she’s had limited time to train her Southdown sheep for exhibition since acquiring them in May, “it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it,” Layne said.

During the competition, a 116-pound ewe owned by Landon Harker, who is now in his third year of showing lambs, tried to make a daring escape to the outside.

It took club members and adults a few failed efforts before they were able to corner and capture the ewe before returning her to the animal’s 11-year-old owner.

While that type of incident doesn’t happen often during such events, sheep get spooked easily and are especially irritable during hot weather, Landon said.

Landon, who attends Smith Elementary School, estimates he has spent about 90 minutes a day watering, feeding, washing, walking, shearing and bedding down his sheep since January.

Compared to hogs, raising sheep always requires a greater investment in time and effort, said Wesley Jewell, 18, in his fourth and final year of showing lambs at the fair.

For example, the recent Columbus Signature Academy graduate spent no less that five hours Monday shearing his three lambs to prepare for Wednesday’s competition.

“Don’t get me wrong, but by the time the livestock sale arrives, I’m going to be soooo over this,” Jewell said.

Beef Show

As Thursday’s Lil’ Wranglers show concluded Thursday, about 140 spectators watched as 26 heifers were paraded and evaluated by Ryan Bott, a judge from Washington County.

But as it got closer for the time for 33 steers to make their appearance, followed by 15 starter calves, the livestock pavilion became increasingly more crowded.

Besides family and friends, potential bidders who seemed engaged in their own judging were showing up ahead of Saturday’s livestock auction. And as the crowd got bigger, the contestants seemed to exhibit more signs of pressure.

But most 4-H beef cattle exhibitors also feel pressure due to the same reason meat prices greatly vary at the supermarket.

In terms of financial investment, a farmer can nourish 20 chicken for a week with the same amount of feed that three cows consume in just two days, German Township livestock producer Leah Beyer said.

Even more significant is that fertilized chicken eggs begin hatching after only three weeks, and the bird can be processed in less than two months.

Pregnant hogs give birth less than four months after conception, with an additional five- to six-month wait before a pork producer has product.

In sharp contrast, the 284-day gestation time for cattle is more than two weeks longer than the 266 days for humans. After a calf is born, it must be fed and looked after for a year-and-a-half before anyone gets beef for dinner.

So when young people put in up to 18 months of time — and need an acceptable return on the substantial investment — each 4-H beef cattle exhibitor is really feeling the pressure.

During the past 11 months of raising her late junior yearling, Gracie Greene puts in about an hour every night grooming and practicing showmanship, the 11-year-old Hope Elementary student said.

However, the 14-year-old owner of the Grand Champion yearling, who won over 11 other entries, said she has put in much more time each over the past 19 months.

“Other than basketball, it’s pretty much my life,” said Nichole Paetzel, a six-year exhibitor and Hauser student who seemed content that her grand champions now will be kept for breeding purposes.

In his second year exhibiting cattle, Kendrick Crowder, 10, said he had been looking forward to exhibiting both his senior yearling and his crossbred heifer for several months, he said.

When it was announced that his 555-pound heifer garnered third-place honors, the Hope Elementary student appeared to be having the time of his life.

“The competition is more about having fun than anything else,” Kendrick said.¬† “I also won’t be selling my animals.”

Today at the fair

GETTING TO THE FAIR: 750 W. County Road 200S, near Southside Elementary School, on the west side of Columbus. General admission is free.

PARKING: $5 per day on fairgrounds property, or $7 a day on paved parking lot at Southside Elementary, operated by Columbus FFA. Fees collected starting at 1 p.m.

MIDWAY: Opens 5 p.m. today with rides, games, food booths operated by Burton Brothers Amusements of Shirley, Indiana. Wristband special 5 p.m. today to close, $23. Games cost $1 to $5 in cash. Food booths also take cash.

4-H ACTIVITIES: Livestock Auction Buyers Breakfast, 7:30 a.m. today, Pavilion; 4-H Livestock Sale, 8:15 a.m. today, Pavilion.

GRANDSTAND: Demolition Derby, 7 p.m. today ($10 adult, $5 for children 12 and younger).

INFORMATION: Fair office: 812-372-6133. Fair website: bartholomewcountyfair.com.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.