The 33rd annual Northeast Youth Sheep Show (NEYSS) took place July 13-16 at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. Admission was free for the third largest and longest running youth sheep show in the country. Exhibitors, 21 years old and younger, are drawn to this premier all-breed junior show each year because it provides them with a good opportunity to learn and practice their sheep showmanship skills.
The show is put together through the volunteer efforts of the NEYSS Executive Committee. The NEYSS itself is sponsored by a non-profit agricultural organization that is devoted to the promotion of the sheep and wool industry known as the New England Sheep & Wool Growers Association (NES&WGA). The NEYSS is also supported by national breed associations, local organizations and individual sponsors.
According to show co-chairperson Sarah Jakeman there were approximately 100 youth exhibitors and 500 sheep registered for this year’s show. These numbers were down slightly from last year which saw approximately 150 youth exhibitors and 600 sheep. Despite lower exhibitor numbers Jakeman pointed out that there was an increase in the amount of younger kids participating and 17 different breeds of sheep represented during the show.
The wide array of sheep came from exhibitors residing all throughout New England and several other states. Many were older youths returning for the high level of competition the show offers. Others were young newcomers looking to gain experience and make new friends.
Seventeen-year-old Circee Atkins says she traveled from Griswold, CT with several of her Cotswold sheep mainly for the competition.
“I like competing with everyone else,” Atkins said. “It shows if your sheep are any good for the rest of the year. If your sheep do well here, they will do well anywhere else.”
Lauren Drum of Standfordville, NY returned with her five-year-old daughter Katie because she felt it was good way for her to learn and make new friends. “There is just so much for the kids to do here,” Drum said. “I bring them here for the experience. They are learning responsibility and how to make new friends.”
Julie Waggoner and her daughter Olivia traveled all the way from East Berlin, PA to participate. They have been making the six-hour trip each year since Olivia was six years old. Waggoner says she likes the fact that youth exhibitors determine the final outcome without any outside help from others.
“This is a good show,” Waggoner said. “The thing that makes it different compared to other youth shows is that no parent or professional fitter is allowed to help the participants with their sheep. From caring to cleaning and fitting, the kids have to do all the work. It levels the playing field and makes this totally a youth show.”
This year’s show culminated once again with the selection of the supreme ram, ewe and flock awards. The Supreme Champion Ram was a southdown that belonged to Lexy Grace of Westmoreland, NH. The Supreme Champion Ewe was a white romney that belonged to Ethan Kennedy of Canandaigua, NY. The Supreme Champion Flock were natural colored sheep that belonged to Cody Botsford of Scipio Center, NY. Each winner received a banner, sash and cash prize of $100.
Another competition that took place alongside the sheep show was the 9th annual fleece show. Here participants got the opportunity to display fleeces of no more than 12 months’ growth from their current wool crop. All entries had to be rolled, untied and presented in a clean plastic bag. Participants were also required to present fleece that had been cleaned, skirted and made free of any chaff, burrs, tags and second cuts. The owner of this year’s supreme champion fleece was Bekah Parent of Orwell, VT. Parent won the title with wool that came from a seven-month-old Romney ewe lamb. She received a banner and sash along with a cash prize of $75.
Besides the sheep and fleece shows there were a variety of activities for youths to take part in throughout the weekend. Quiz Bowl and Skillathon contests presented two opportunities for youths to test their knowledge on sheep.
During the Quiz Bowl youths were separated by age groups into teams and used electronic buzzers to answer various sheep related questions. The winning teams received trophies while all the other participants came away with small consolation prizes.
The Skillathon consisted of a written test in which youths were graded and the top three scores in each age group received sheep feeders and all other participants received halters. Participants were able to prepare for the exam in advance by using what they have learned as well as reading through various sheep study guides.
Youths also had a chance to sit back and observe experienced showmen demonstrate the proper way to present a sheep before a judge during a showmanship clinic. The volunteer showmen demonstrated common show techniques such as leading, setup and bracing.
There was also a scotch auction for various donated items. Participants purchased raffle tickets for articles ranging from sheep equipment to household items.
Another fundraiser taking place was a used equipment auction which consisted of various sheep related equipment and supplies such as fences, stock trailers and feeders. The event benefited both sellers looking to make a small profit on unwanted farm items and young sheep owners in need of basic sheep equipment and supplies at discounted prices. There was no entry fee to auction off equipment but all consignors were required to be NES&WGA members and had to pay the NEYSS a 12 percent commission off the final sale price. All proceeds from both of these fundraisers went directly to the NEYSS to help with various show expenses for this year and subsequent years to follow.
For more information on the NEYSS visit www.nessheep.org.