Extension educator sees the other side of 4-H as manager of sheep show

A 4-H exhibitor shows herlamb during Wednesday's Sheep Showmanship held at the Scotts Bluff County Fair in Mitchell.

MITCHELL — Nathan Rice has been showing sheep at the Scotts Bluff County Fair since 2002. His brothers and sisters started about 12 years before that. He’s now seeing the other side of the competition as the new manager of the sheep show.

“The sheep show is my favorite by far,” Rice said. “This is my first time of helping run the show as a 4-H Extension educator.”

A Morrill native, Rice assumed leadership duties from Jana Schwartz, who’s been running the 4-H shows for years.

“It’s different to be behind the scenes,” he said. “You have to make sure everything is lined up and organized. Because those arrangements are made ahead of time, the biggest change for me is in taking care of any emergency or problem that comes up.”

This year’s sheep show had about 62 entries, down from an average of 100 in past years. Four of the sheep were entered from FFA, which included the top winner. Jaden Allen won the grand overall market championship for sheep. Kate Pieper was the reserve champion.

“The quality of the sheep is really good this year,” Rice said. “Last time I saw the sheep show was in 2012 and the genetics have gone crazy since then”

Some of the genetic improvements he pointed out were that recent animals have a larger top and are squarer. The animals are also taller, thinner and more muscular.

Rice said the overall trend has been a smaller number of animals being shown, not only sheep, but also hogs and cattle.

“I think the numbers have dropped some because the ag economy isn’t that great and sheep are getting more expensive to raise,” he said. “There’s probably the same number of families showing animals, but they’re not showing as many.”

As an extension educator, Rice said he really enjoys working with the kids.

“Our only job is to serve and to make sure the kids are getting a great experience and learning a ton.”

What’s different for him now is that when he entered sheep, it was all about the competition and earning the ribbons. But today, it isn’t about the winning. It’s about the experience of raising an animal and the time spent learning.

“Winning is great, but what kids learn about their work ethic is a lot more important,” Rice said. “When they’ve finished competing and look back on the experience, they’ll remember the accomplishment more than the awards, whether it’s in livestock or any other area of life.”

Once the fair wraps up and the school year starts, Rice will be taking 4-H afterschool programming to schools around the area.

“I’ll be in Kimball, Banner County and Scottsbluff-Gering for learning opportunities in robotics, rocketry, nanotechnology computers and other areas,” he said. “Most of the afterschool programs will be for elementary to junior high age students.”

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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