Sisters continue family tradition at fair

Sisters Marian, left, and Sarah Grace Schechtel are ready to show their market lambs at the Shenandoah County Fair. Kaley Toy/Daily

Sisters Sarah Grace and Marian Schechtel continue a family tradition of showing sheep at the Shenandoah County Fair.

Sarah Grace, 16, of Woodstock, has participated in Central High School’s FFA program and is a 4-H Lone Star member. This will be her seventh year showing at the fair.

Her sister, Marian, 13, is also a 4-H Lone Star Member. This will be her fourth time showing at the fair.

The girls are the youngest of seven children in the Schechtel family who have shown sheep through 4-H at the county fair. Participating in the market lamb event, each will be showing two sheep. Marian named her sheep Princess and Hugo, while Sarah Grace named her sheep Buster and Nick.

Sarah Grace said she has had really great experiences at the fair and builds a community with those she meets there.

“It’s gratifying because you put in so much work. Four months of getting up early and working with these animals, and then to see your work pay off at the fair and at the shows is just very gratifying to see that you did this by yourself,” she said.

She added that those at the fair are a big family.

“It’s a big community of people that are there to support you and build something around you,” she said.

Marian said the fair experience also gives her a chance to see how the work of the other exhibitors paid off and how to improve next year.

She added that they are judged on showmanship, which is how the handler walks and breaks the animal. The animal has to have a good brace and be “rock solid” meaning the handler pushes against the sheep and the sheep must push back and remain still and firm, which isn’t natural for sheep to do.

Sarah Grace added that they are also judged on the animal’s marketability, which entails the weight and build of the sheep, in order to be sold. The judges look at the “cut of meat.” At the end of the fair, the sheep are sold through a bidding process.

She added this  bidding process shows the level of community support because buyers won’t necessarily bid on the largest sheep, instead they bid on a particular sheep because they know the handler and how hard the handler spent getting ready for this event.

She said those who bid are often community members who have watched you grow up.

“When you work four months out of the year and see somebody that you know buy your sheep, and it’s not by any means a cheap purchase, it tears you up,” she added.

Marian added that some buyers will just bid on the sheep to raise the price because they know how hard you worked.

Sarah Grace said that the behind-the-scenes work also factors into the judges scoring.

The way they feed the animals and exercise the animals contributes to how much weight they gain. The animal’s weight will determine which weight class the sheep will be entered into. She compared this to wrestlers competing in a certain weight class. She said you don’t want to be the smallest in your weight class in wrestling, and the same rings true for sheep. The sheep are between 90 to 150 pounds and where the sheep fall in this weight continuum determines the weight class the sheep are entered.

The work to get to the fair began months earlier. The sisters picked out their sheep from their breeder in May. By the time the fair starts,  the sheep will be between 6 and 7 months old.

Throughout her years in the market lamb event, Sarah Grace has also learned how to perform veterinary checks, such as deworming and neutering.

Both girls said they are very competitive and take this event and the work leading up to the event  seriously.

On a daily basis they feed and water the animals and exercise on an as-needed basis. On a monthly basis they wash the sheep and they also sheer the animals once or twice before the competition.

After all this work, Marian said she builds up her confidence and excitement for the main event.

“You get in there and you say ‘Ok, I’ve got this,'” she said.

Sarah Grace added that the day of the show, she wakes up at 5 a.m. with her adrenaline pumping.

She said the one on one moment with the judge “is the best adrenaline rush of your life.”

Marian added that a perk to being an earlybird at the fair is “you get to watch the fair come alive.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com