July 31, 2007

The first time around

Photo by Zach Goodwin/copyright Redmond Spokesman

In one quick, smooth motion, Morgan Kissler flipped her standard Rex rabbit upside down in her arm to show off his healthy front teeth. “This is how you show their teeth to the judges,” she explained as she gently pushed back his lips. Morgan handled her rabbit, Baby Blue, with such ease and skill that he seemed calmer and more relaxed than most humans do in a dental chair.

The Redmond sixth-grader went on to point out a few more features of her show rabbit’s physique with the poise and confidence of a well-trained public speaker. “You have to give him some patience, clip and brush him and give him lots of attention,” Morgan said.

Morgan and her older sister Kara are part of the Deschutes County 4-H Cascade Carrot Crunchers group and will be showing their rabbits during the first day of the county fair this week. It’s hard to imagine that less than one year ago, these sisters knew nothing about rabbits, said their mom Wendy Kissler.

“4-H really teaches the kids a lot,” she said. “And it has really helped these girls with self-confidence and responsibility.”

Although the few days spent at the fair can be the most nerve-racking and exciting aspect to raising animals – especially for first-timers like Morgan and Kara -- it’s really just a quick close to months of hard work and study.

“It takes a lot to show a rabbit,” said Morgan. She laid out her three-ring 4-H binder and flipped through pages of handwritten record logs and printed information on rabbit health, care, breeding, and equipment.

Morgan and Kara Kissler have a total of 12 rabbits they care for daily. Only two will compete in the fair as show rabbits, and six will be sold at the fair as market rabbits.
Morgan’s rabbit Baby Blue is strictly a show rabbit, which is probably a good thing.

“I would be pretty sad if I had to give him away. I’d cry,” she said.

Pigs – a popular choice with 4-H kids – are often entered as market animals and sold at the livestock auction.

Over the past several years Kyle Krazt, fifth-grader at Evergreen Elementary, has watched his older sister Amanda raise and show 4-H pigs. This year he decided to give it a try himself.
His pig, Tonka, will be sold as a market animal. As of last week, Kyle was limiting Tonka’s daily feed in order to get him within the acceptable weight range to qualify for auction. “It makes him a little grumpy,” he said.

Almost every day since late March, Kyle has ventured out at 7 a.m. to feed his pig, hose him down and walk him several laps around the field. Getting out early is important in the summer, Kyle said, because when it gets hot pigs don’t want to move.

“The hardest thing is getting them to mind,” Kyle said. Young pig handlers use a show stick to guide their pigs in an out of the ring and to walk a required formation in front of the judges.

Once in the show ring, if a pig doesn’t mind its handler the judges notice so obedience training is important. That brought up a gloomy question – if the pig is going to become a breakfast side dish anyway, why does it matter whether it’s obedient?

“It’s part of the showmanship training,” explained Candi Bothum, 4-H program coordinator. “The point is to teach the kids training skills and how to present themselves in a positive manner.” And on the practical side, putting 15 hogs together in a ring can be a mess if they’re not manageable.
Amanda Krazt, a sophomore at Redmond High School, fell from a roof on July 4 and broke a vertebra. She too had been raising a pig to show, but because of her injury Kyle had to step in to finish the care and training of his sister’s pig, doubling his daily workload.

Kyle said he’s nervous about the judging during the fair, and isn’t sure whether he’ll do this again next year. “I’ll see how fair goes. I’m more into team sports than individual things.”

As a first-timer in 4-H, Kyle is fully aware that his pig Tonka will most likely be auctioned off and sent to the slaughterhouse. Kyle’s business sense is strong and he didn’t seem distraught over the idea.

“Kids go into the 4-H program knowing that there is money to be made at the end of the whole market thing,” said Bothum. “They understand that if they choose market, their animal is not going to be there after fair. But it can be very hard if a kid has never been around that … they spend a lot of time raising them and taking care of them to see them get loaded on a truck.”

Common market animals such as pigs and steer aren’t exactly snuggly like bunnies, so saying good-bye can be a little easier.

“It’s a long process to get them there,” said Michelle Kratz. “It’s a lot of work so you’re kind of relieved that you don’t have to deal with it anymore on a day to day basis. But it’s still a mix of feelings.”

Raising market animals can be a lucrative experience for kids in 4-H, but the primary purpose of the program will last much longer than a few hundred bucks.

“This is about learning showmanship, life skills, responsibilities, accountability, and teamwork,” said Bothum. “All the (4-H) projects are tools to help kids learn life skills. A lot of kids will learn things like how to fit their steer or sheep, but they may never own a sheep for the rest of their life. But it’s the other skills that last – public speaking, keeping records, responsibilities of caring for something. Those skills they keep all their life.”

-- story by Tara LaVelle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Redmond and look at the Spokesman page from time to time. This is bar-none the best photograph I have ever seen. Well done.

Charlotte N.C.