Home Grown Youngsters, Animals Looking Their Best For Junior Livestock Show
The world of 4-H and Future Farmers of America appears upside-down.
Gangs are merry bands of friends. Fights are with water hoses. Judges wear manure-stained boots instead of robes.
Starting this weekend at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, 600 children from four states will do their best to overshadow negative perceptions of today’s youth.
“If every kid were involved in 4-H or FFA work,” says Washington Court of Appeals Judge John Schultheis, “I’d be out of a job.”
The Junior Livestock Show of Spokane - the largest and longest running of its kind west of the Mississippi - will celebrate its 60th birthday Saturday through Thursday.
More than 1,500 pigs, lambs and steers will be buffed and paraded before discerning eyes. Many will be auctioned at show’s end.
The child exhibitors will be scrutinized more than their animals. Judges will gauge appearance, poise under pressure and the ability to make large animals obey like house pets.
“You take a 1,200-pound steer and try to get it to walk like a puppy on a leash,” says 15-year-old Justin Wentland of Medical Lake.
Contestants will be in their finest jeans, western shirts and boots. Competition is intense, but no more than the friendships. After primping their animals, some of the girls will grab curling irons and do each other’s hair for the Super Bowl of livestock shows.
“You wanna look as good as your pig,” says 14-year-old Elizabeth Mosey.
The Junior Livestock Show of Spokane was born during the Great Depression, when seven Eastern Washington businessmen sat around a dinner table and pondered how to help rural youngsters show and market their animals.
Early participants were strictly from family farms, but today’s organizers try to recruit city kids. Reallife lessons in responsibility, loyalty, maturity and money management are too valuable to keep secret, they say.
“These kids are top of the line,” says Sandpoint resident Stephanie Lippert, secretary of the livestock show’s executive board. “They’re the leaders, the doers, the top students. They’re the achievers.”
While the rewards are great, the regimen can be brutal.
Many of the children wake up with the sun to feed, clean and train their animals, and to shovel out their stalls.
Right before the show, they’ll spend most every waking minute outside school tending to their animals.
Gonzaga Prep student Kelly Rouse, 17, has spent six weeks brushing the wool out of two lambs, a process called carding. The lambs now look like huge cotton balls. Before, they were gray mats with legs.
Rouse’s nerves will stay springloaded in the jittery position until after the show. Those ivory fluffballs must stay clean.
Minutes before another show last year, Rouse accidentally dumped a glass of orange juice on one of her lambs. Luckily, it was not the lamb’s “show side,” but the one opposite the judge.
“This has helped me get confidence,” Rouse says of the process.
Participants are virtually on their own. Parents are admonished not to break the chain of independence. They’re to be observers except in emergencies.
Some youngsters spend hundreds of their own dollars to raise their animals. The auction after the livestock show is the only way to recoup their investments. If the market for beef, lamb and pork is glutted, the youngsters learn a tough lesson in supply-side economics.
“It certainly gives them a look at what life is going to be like later on,” says show President Roger Baker of Pomeroy, Wash.
The experience is also a tangible exercise in civics.
While at the Junior Livestock Show, the children form their own governing body complete with mayor and council. They police themselves. The bad elements are cast out.
“These kids turn out to be the best and the brightest because they get so many lifetime survival skills,” says Treva Norris, the livestock show’s business manager.
The annual routine has been a rite of passage at the Damian and Gina Mosey farm at the base of Mount Spokane.
Their three children - Theresa, 16, Elizabeth, 14, and Dawson, 12 - are veterans of 4-H (head, hands, health and heart).
With friend Jody Flannery, a 16-year-old Mead suburbanite, the foursome nurture eight red-brickcolored Durocs pigs entered in the show.
The youngsters are members of the Colbert Clovers 4-H Club, a fellowship much like a Scout troop, except the wisdom they acquire leads to more than merit badges.
If only other kids knew, they say.
Jody and Theresa are the only two students out of 1,800 at Mead High School involved in 4-H.
Some classmates think showing livestock is cool. Others oink and squeal like pigs, call them hicks and wonder if they have indoor plumbing.
“City kids aren’t as mature,” Theresa says. “They don’t grow up as responsible. They don’t know what work is.”
Wentland, who is trying to puppy train a steer, could be playing baseball with his Medical Lake friends. Instead, he’s grooming the blond, curly-haired Goldilocks.
“A lot of kids are rebels,” Wentland says. “I’m going to say that I’ll be a more responsible adult.
“A lot of these kids live in town. The closest they’ve been to a cow is driving by one on the highway,” he says. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”