If you’ve ever talked to anyone in 4-H, it’s very likely they’ve mentioned one of their favourite times of year: Show Season! For farms kids like me, it’s like Christmas spread over a few months. It is those few months when you and your ‘cream of the crop’ animals get to travel around the countryside competing for those beautiful red ribbons.
Luckily for me – my show season is starting a bit earlier than usual this year, and is a bit more western than we’re used to. It begins June 27th, in Barriere, British Columbia, the home of the 2013 All Canada Sheep Classic (from here on out, I will refer to it as “The Classic”). I plan on chronicling the processes that are involved with getting the sheep (and our family) ready to go, so hopefully it feels like you’re coming too!
Part 1: Halter Breaking
So the first thing you have to know is, our sheep, while not completely wild, are not usually tamed. They know when we come to the barn that we are going feed them but that process doesn’t involve us catching them, touching them, and even in some cases getting into the pens with them. So getting them used to human contact is a fairly important and time-consuming job.
No one likes to be scared, so we try to get the sheep as accustomes to human contact as we can while they are comfortable in their own pens. One of the ways we do this is called “halter breaking”, which is essentially the same thing as getting a dog used to walking on a leash. If a sheep is halter-broke it is a lot easier to manage when moving and once we get them to the fair.
Brien Sheep will be exhibiting 10 sheep at The Classic. That’s 10 sheep that need to be worked with and trained and requires a lot of hours on my part to do it. To begin, we simply put the halter on and tie them up. This way they get used to the feeling of the rope on their face. Once they are used to that, then we begin walking them around, which doesn’t often start well. But always improves. Throughout all of the training we are continuously touching their backs, feet, legs, stomach, standing up and crouching beside them to get them used to what will be happening in the show ring.
While they usually start off scared and trying to get away, they learn that we aren’t hurting them and they get used to being touched and having people move around them. They get so used to me being around them that I can literally walk circles around them by the end of it without them moving. Those silly sheep.
But that’s halter breaking – keep your eyes open for my next post. WASHING!