ELDON — The animal competitions at the Wapello County Fair aren't just about giving away ribbons — they're preparing for the future of the industry.
Saturday's competition included both open and FFA divisions. Competitors in several ages groups came from many different states to take part in the show.
Brooke Ryner traveled from Alexis, Ill., to be in this year's fair. Normally she shows steers, but this is her first season showing sheep. And there is a big difference between the two.
"The sheep are a lot more work (in the show ring)," she said. "You need more muscle and strength. With steers, you just walk them in, set them up and that's it."
It's a long process to prepare a sheep to show at the fair, Ryner says. First you have to choose one based on how you think it looks and what you think you'll have to do for it to be in peak condition.Then there are countless hours working with them and walking them to tame them. And there's washing them , feeding them, all the everyday care to raise them.
For Ryner, the hard work paid off. One of the two sheep she brought to the fair was named Supreme Champion and the other was a reserve champion.
The challenge can be knowing what you like in the sheep and guessing what the judge prefers.
"If you've seen the judge before, you know what they're looking for," she said. "But if not, you have to get the judge to like your sheep."
This year's judge, Luke Stuaan of Keota, knows exactly what he's looking for.
"Muscle. That's what we sell, that's our product," he explained. "There's a certain shape. Things may change a little for a market animal because they're for commercial use. They're going to produce the next few generations."
Stuaan grew up around livestock and actually met his wife while showing sheep. They both showed at the Wapello County Fair, so this weekend was like coming home. Having been on the opposite side of the show ring, he's very specific about what the show should provide.
"We want to make it both fun and educational," Stuaan said. "These are the things they would do in the industry, like a farmer would."
He'll also talk with each competitor, letting them know what he sees as judging.
"It could be a lot of things. If they need some work on showmanship, I'll mention that to them," he said. "I'll tell them why they're where they are in the lineup. Anything to give them some experience."
And that experience is what will drive these young showmen to be the future of the livestock industry.
"They have to stay active, that's the most important thing," Stuaan stressed. "Right now, their show career is all in their parents hands. But the future depends on them."