HESSTON — The Harvey County Fair will see a trio of strong contenders in sheep showing this year.
Tyrone Taylor, 12, Jessiah Corta, 11, and Tyrianna Bridges, 10, have learned about sheep and how to handle them from their adopted grandparents, Galen and Debra Dreier.
"The feeding, selection and showmanship are kind of the three areas that determine how well you're going to do," Galen said. "The best looking lamb at 60 pounds is not always the best looking lamb at 130 pounds. You've got to have an eye for that."
The Dreiers both have a lifetime of experience with sheep. Debra's father was a sheep producer in Oklahoma.
"He was always very strict that we did everything right, and since I enjoyed showing, I did it." Debra said.
In her teenage years, she won state showmanship in Oklahoma not once, but twice.
"A lot of times, girls end up being the best showmen just because they don't get frustrated as easy," Galen said.
"Showmanship is the big thing to win," Debra acknowledged. "...We try to teach the kids that that's the biggest prize, to be the best showman."
It was even working with sheep that brought the two together.
"We met at the Chicago International Livestock Show," Galen said. "I saw showing for Kansas State and she was helping her dad."
Showing sheep has changed from the time Galen and Debra were in 4-H, when the contestants were judged on how well their lamb's wool was trimmed.
"Nowadays, they've tried to eliminate that by slick shearing," Galen said. "So then the only way you can improve how that animal looks is through exercise and proper feeding."
The couple is passing on their knowledge to a younger generation of boys and girls.
"None of these guys had an exposure to livestock or anything like that, so it's been a good training experience, good responsibility," Galen said. "It's like music or sports — the county fair is just the culmination of all the work you do beforehand."
This is Tyrianna's first year to participate in showing sheep. She will be showing a lamb that was bottle fed.
Jessiah will be showing sheep for his second time this year.
"My first year, I was nervous. I thought that the ewe was going to kick me and get away," Jessiah said.
While the children are proud of the ribbons and trophies they have already won, their grandparents see another benefit to being involved in showing sheep.
"The neat thing about 4-H is, if you do it right, it requires a lot of time together," Galen said.
The Dreiers have around 400 sheep and each of the children take care of their own lambs.
"You have to train them and exercise them," Tyrone explained.
A regular ritual of exercise for the sheep and showmanship practice for the kids takes place at the Dreier's farm.
"The showman influences how the sheep looks and how he does better than any other species," Galen said. "We've spent the last three or four weeks getting ready, training the lambs and training the showmen here every morning."
Getting a lamb to place its feet squarely to show it to its best advantage is no easy task.
"You have to brace them, which hardens their muscles," Tyrone said. "If their feet are all messed up, you put them where you want them, but you still want to watch the judge."
One technique Galen teaches the children is how to get a lamb to move its foot by turning its head a certain direction.
"Each species has a little bit different approach to making that animal look the best," Galen said. "The bigger lambs, for the younger kids, make placing feet really hard. So if we can do that by maneuvering off the front end, that's an advantage."
Galen teaches the children to use their knees to guide the sheep into the perfect position.
"Everybody's got a little different angle. I like my angle," Galen said.
Regular practice with the lambs builds up the handler's confidence in their abilities.
"The more confident and comfortable they are, the more comfortable the lambs are. The lambs follow them," Galen said.
The Harvey County Free Fair will be held Aug. 4 to Aug. 8 at the Harvey County Fairgrounds, 700 W. First St. in Newton. For more information, visit http://www.harveycountyfair.com.