The last time I worried about what sheep eat and the most-up-to-date way to style their leg wool was about 25 years ago, give or take.

I raised and trained market lambs my first few years of 4-H, before my parents were confident that I was tough enough to handle breaking a steer or heifer from our herd. Lambs are, of course, much smaller and less intimidating, and I got pretty good at showing them in my first few years of 4-H. But steers tended to offer the bigger return on investment at the fair sale, so the second I was able to switch to cattle, I never looked back.

My brother and I sold most of our sheep-specific gear, trading it in for what we needed to take our half-trained cattle to the fair. I never imagined that I'd come to regret that move.

But time marches on and, before you know it, you have a kid of your own who you don't think is ready to be tethered to a 1,000-plus-pound yearling steer.

To read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen columns, click here.

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Like my parents before me, my husband and I aren't interested in buying expensive trained show livestock. We want our kids to learn about livestock, but we want them to face some amount of reality and a big dose of responsibility. And sheep are both less expensive and less heavy than the cattle we know more about.

We bought a couple lambs from my daughter's friend who has built an impressive flock and has been willing to lend her knowledge to a younger 4-H'er. We built a sheep-proof pen. We settled Mark and Maggie into the barn.

And now I'm trying to figure out what I've gotten myself back into.

The shear I used on my sheep is no more; according to my dad it was probably 50 years old when it finally croaked when he was using it to clip cattle, so that shouldn't have surprised me. We must have sold our fitting stand; at least I couldn't find it in any of the likely hiding places last time I visited my childhood home. I remember how we fit our lambs back in the day, but Mark and Maggie aren't the same breed as my lambs were and I assume sheep styles may have changed. The fair I attended was less than 10 minutes from my house, but we'll have to camp out at the county fair to maintain my sanity and save us from back-and-forth 40-minute-per-day trips.

It's all another reminder of how much my parents did for me and my brother when we were kids. And what all parents of 4-H'ers with livestock do for their kids.

There is a certain amount of privilege that is necessary in showing livestock. Not everyone has a barn or feed or time for livestock. The paraphernalia doesn't come cheap. I know I can't give my kids everything, but this is something I can do for them, just as my parents did for me.

I don't know that my daughters will ever be champions in livestock shows. I don't know where this sheep adventure will take us. But I do know that the older one has been getting up before school to take care of her lambs and heading out to the barn after school to spend time with them. The present confusion and expense will pay off in ways that I probably can't even imagine yet.

And in the meantime, if anyone has any sheep grooming advice, send it my way.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.