All set to show

Area youth ready for the spotlight at county fair
Jesse Zirkle positions Minnie at the Rockbridge County Livestock Show on July 15. He will be showing Minnie with two other sheep at the Shenandoah County Fair on Aug. 31. Photo courtesy of Kristi Zirkle
Joseph DiRoberto had raised his goat Little Buddy to show for the first time at the 2014 Shenandoah County Fair. Photo courtesy of Joann DiRoberto
Kyle Lutz showed his steer, Lynch, in April at the Virginia Beef Expo in Harrisonburg. He'll also be showing Lynch at the Shenandoah County Fair show on Sep. 1. Photo courtesy of Bradley Lutz
Lauren Derflinger works with her market goat, Tonic, to prepare for the Shenandoah County Fair. Photo courtesy of Barbara Derflinger
Lizzie Rhodes acts as youth representative by helping with the sheep weigh-in before the shows and sale at the 2014 Shenandoah County Fair. Photo courtesy of Carol Nansel
Kennedy Whetzel spends some quality time with her champion lightweight swine "Ham"ster at the 2014 Shenandoah County Fair. Photo courtesy of Brooke Whetzel.

Young livestock exhibitors and their families in Shenandoah have been gearing up for their big moment at the 98th Shenandoah County Fair’s 4-H and FFA shows.

Registration for the livestock shows lists 35 beef exhibitors with 40 steers, seven dairy exhibitors with 21 cattle, 44 exhibitors with 72 market lambs, 22 exhibitors with 41 market hogs and 63 exhibitors with 108 market goats. Participant numbers have increased slightly for steers and cattle but otherwise decreased since last year, something 4-H extension agent Carol Nansel mostly attributes to the economy.

New this year will be an optional team cattle fitting contest at 10 a.m. Sept. 4, a day before the livestock sale. Exhibitors will spruce up their animal for a panel of three judges to give feedback for future competitions, usually open shows that occur around January.

“It’s more of a beauty contest – I use that word lightly,” said Tracy Heishman, co-chair of the 4-H sponsors and awards committee.

4-H conferred with youth representatives to include the frequently requested fitting contest, as well as what kids wanted in the way of prizes.

“It’s just for fun. They’re going to have some ribbons and they’re going to have some special prizes,” Nansel said.

This year, Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion winners for each species will receive a banner and embroidered duffel bag, while division winners will win a smaller banner.

On Friday afternoon after the fitting contest, exhibitors will have a photo shoot opportunity with their friends or their animals for the first time.

Out of the large turnout at the Shenandoah County Fair, only about 15 exhibitors will go on to show at the state fair in October. Most of the kids don’t go on to the state fair because school is in full swing – never for a lack of support.

“We have a lot of support in this community for the kids and the animals that they have raised,” Nansel said. Even in the years when the economy is bad, we’ve had people come and help these kids out.”

Lauren Deflinger

Lauren Derflinger has competed in goat shows for seven years alongside – and against – her sister Kristin. This year, Kristin is off to Indiana Wesleyan University, and Lauren will be showing her goats Tonic and Rhapsody at the fair by herself.

Kristin brought the goat-showing fever to the family seven years ago after working at the fair and falling in love with the animals’ vibrant personalities. Lauren said she enjoyed learning and showing with her sister for seven years but she’ll also enjoy the spotlight being on her for a while.

“We connected through showing goats together,” she said. “But at the same time it feels good that I’ve beaten her before but I won’t have to compete against her anymore.”

Although Lauren said she only raises the goats for about four months before the fair, she has a lot of pride for the animal when it wins and always looks forward to judge feedback so she can continue improving.

“It’s the bond that really feels good when the goat wins,” she said.

One doe, Cadence, was a miracle kid for the Derflingers. The only living triplet of her litter, she returned to her mother on Christmas after a week of struggling to survive and was accepted. The Derflingers have kept her to show and breed since then.

Despite the attachment, Lauren started the shows with the knowledge that the goats would turn into dinner later on – the Derflingers have butchered some goats to eat themselves and she said she loves the flavor.

“I get really attached, but I know there’s going to be other goats in other years,” she said. “It’s a mindset, I guess.”

The family keeps about five does and one buck, along with however many kids they breed that year. Father Scott Derflinger wasn’t used to keeping the animals at first and loaned his support by building shelters for the goats. It was old hat for Barbara Derflinger, having grown up on a dairy farm.

“It was pretty easy for me to start into it because I was very used to the farm experience,” she said.

Lauren will be showing Tonic and Rhapsody this year at the fair on Sept. 2.

Jesse Zirkle

Jesse Zirkle will be showing his breeding sheep Maxine, Millie and Minnie for the first time at the fair. He’s been part of the livestock judging team at 4-H for four years and first started showing at the Clarke County 4-H Volunteer Leader’s Association market lamb and goat show on July 4 of this year.

“He’s kind of grown and learned … this is a kind of natural progression and he is loving it,” mother Kristi Zirkle said.

She said Jesse shows breeding sheep – as opposed to market lambs like some of his friends – because he didn’t want to have to sell them at the end of the show.

She’s the only member of the family without any experience raising show animals. But between the 4-H staff and community formed by other exhibitors, she said she’s received support whenever she has a rookie question.

“It’s quite a family that they don’t feel its such a competition … they can help you,” she said. “It’s made me regret that I wasn’t in 4-H.”

Jesse said his friends who started out showing have also offered him plenty of help and advice along the way. The biggest shift for him between judging and showing was seeing the animal grow and transition as opposed to viewing it as a finished product.

“You still get the same sense of pride by walking into the ring with your lamb and — most of the time — doing perfectly,” he said.

Now that he’s showing the sheep hands-on, Jesse said that the knowledge he’s gained will help him in stockmen’s contests.

In the future, Jesse said he hopes to keep a herd of show sheep, and he’s considered selling lamb meat.

Jesse’s younger sister Lizzi will show the family’s smallest sheep at the open class, and Jesse will be showing the remaining three at the fair on Aug. 31.

Kennedy Whetzel

Young Kennedy Whetzel is looking forward to her second year showing with three different species: lambs, steer and hogs.

Her father John Whetzel showed cattle in high school and said he got Kennedy started in showing. She began with all three species last year at age 9, and she’s loved spending time raising all of her animals.

“I’m just trying to give her a well-rounded view of production agriculture,” Whetzel said. “Each one’s got their own quirk.”

He also makes sure Kennedy can experience showing at multiple fairs, including the Virginia State Fair. After winning reserve champion novice sheep showman there last year, she’ll be adding one heifer to her roster for October.

Kennedy said she enjoys hitting all the different shows and hopes to expand to more in the future as she gets better. She appreciates the support of family members that come out to see her show at the state fair, and although she sometimes ends up competing against her cousins and friends, she said she always has fun while in the ring.

So far, she said she enjoys working with her hogs, Boss Hog and Rosco, the most.

“It’s so funny because they’re smart, and when they get in the ring they’re crazy,” she said. “And then I get in the ring and I have to keep them between me and the judge.”

It’s a big commitment, but she has received help from her friends and enjoys the time spent bonding with all her animals.

“I like being able to take them in the ring and I like knowing they rely on me to feed them when we’re home and all that,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s fun at the same time.”

Kennedy will be showing her animals on Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 at the fair.

Kyle Lutz

Kyle Lutz came away from the fair last year with a Grand Champion Steer prize and he’s in the running to take the title home a second time this year with two steers submitted.

Kyle started showing steers and heifers at age 7. His father Brad Lutz said that meant Kyle was taking over a family tradition. Lutz said that the first and second years are typically the toughest for a new showman, and although Kyle was no exception, he’s come a long way in the ring.

Kyle said, “I’ve gotten used to selling them … and we’ve been trying to get my new ones right after the fair ends, before my old one leaves.

“And with it being my fourth year, it’s kind of routine now.”

Being such a show veteran already, Kyle’s made plenty of friends within the show circuit and he looks forward to seeing them when the fair rolls around. There’s never any love lost when they see him win an award.

“They were proud because I put a lot of hard work into it,” he said.

At the fair, Kyle will be helping to show nine animals and showing two steers and a heifer himself.

“They’re pretty good as far as showing, they don’t misbehave that much,” he said.

This will also be the second year Kyle travels to Doswell to compete in the state fair. Lutz said he shows at an average of five shows per year.

Not only has Kyle displayed an excellence in showing that won him Grand Champion Steer, Lutz said he also takes charge when turning around to sell the animals at the end of the fair.

“He usually does pretty good with support from local businesses,” he said. “Whatever money he makes either goes to his savings or goes towards animals for next year.”

Joseph DiRoberto

This will be the first year that Joseph DiRoberto will show goats that he’s raised from birth at the Shenandoah County Fair, having started showing last year. Despite being a novice exhibitor, he came away with Reserve Grand Champion in showmanship at the fair.

Before making the decision to begin showing goats – with some helpful advice from friends, neighbors and the Internet – he had kept a few goats simply as pets. His mother, Joann DiRoberto, said she never thought she’d end up involved in agriculture, being from New Jersey.

“I’m still learning through him, but he’s doing a majority of the work. He does everything,” she said. “I thought maybe that it was a one time thing, but he is really into his goats.”

After selling his animals last year, Joseph and his mother shared a moment watching them leave.

Joseph said, “I wasn’t really expecting it to be that hard.  It was always in my mind when I was working with them — it’s going to be tough no matter what animal it is, but I guess it’s just tough because you work with them every single day and then they just leave.”

Joseph is continuing to learn as he goes, and said that the help from other exhibitors is more prevalent than the competition between them.

“It’s just fun to do and you just say thank you at the end, you shake hands,” he said. “That’s’ what I enjoy, being out there with friends and doing what I love.”

Because of their low level of maintenance, Joseph said he’s going to stick to showing goats in the future. He’s aiming to show at the state level within the next year or so but said he’s unsure of what it’ll be like once he gets in the ring.

This year, Joseph will be showing four goats at the fair on Sept. 2.


Lizzie Rhodes

Lizzie Rhodes has been exhibiting livestock since she was 2 years old, competing in the fair’s peewee division and relying on the help of family members.

She’s come a long way since then: she’s been a youth representative for 4-H for three years and held offices at Central FFA throughout high school, serving as a student adviser her senior year. Not only that, she’s had the Supreme Champion dairy cow at the fair for three years running.

Her interest in showing hogs began around five years ago and eventually gave her family cause to begin selling pork and market cut beef at Country Rhodes Farm and through farmer’s markets. Her mother Judy Rhodes said the family hadn’t raised hogs before Lizzie took the reins and decided to show and breed them.

“She’s been with me every step of the way,” she said. “She’s learned it from the ground up, kind of like I have.”

Lizzie is currently a student at Lord Fairfax Community College and is looking to go to Virginia Tech and pursue education to be an agriculture teacher. She said she already has a feel for her dream career by seeing her peers grow as a student adviser.

“The best thing about it is you see people that learn from what you tell them and from your own experiences,” she said.

She said she’ll miss the fair once she ages out of the 4-H and FFA shows after next year, but she’ll be occupied with college and continuing to show dairy cattle at shows in Harrisonburg.

While Rhodes said Lizzie’s help at the farm and markets has been invaluable, she emphasized that “I want her first focus to be on her schoolwork.”

Although Lizzie is the fourth Rhodes child to show at the fair, Judy Rhodes said she’s had the strongest continuing devotion to agriculture.

Lizzie will be showing two market hogs and a number of dairy cattle at the fair on Sept. 2.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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