Comforting crying sheep in fitful sleep is all part of the fun of Howard Co. Fair

August 18, 1994|By Matt Ebnet | Matt Ebnet,Sun Staff Writer

In the hay-strewn barn stall next to her four sheep, 13-year-old Elise Mohlhenrich hears a cry and sits up in her makeshift cot. Tangled in a melange of thick blankets and sheets, she cocks her head, listening for her sheep. Nothing.

Still groggy, she curls up, turns off her alarm clock that was set for 5:30 a.m. and dozes off.

Another cry.

Getting out of bed and dragging her feet in the sawdust, she sighs. It's feeding time -- again. "I just wanted to stay in bed," Elise says, laughing.

Elise, a perky eighth-grader at Glenwood Middle School, is at the 49th annual Howard County Fair. She's one of hundreds of youngsters at the fair, which ends at midnight Saturday, here to show off their animals -- chickens, rabbits, cattle, sheep, pigs, horses -- and win prizes.

Most youngsters, drawing on the kind of energy and dedication only a child can have, spend hour upon hour with their animals, showing them off and making sure they are safe.

But Elise stands out.

She's the only one in Barn No. 9 at the fairgrounds who spends 24 hours a day with her sheep -- Cecil, Beanie, Shadow and Midnight.

Most of the time she sleeps and eats in the dark, wet barn in a stall adjacent to her animals. A bag of Doritos and juice are within reach of Elise's cot.

There's too much invested -- besides the $25 per week in costs to maintain an animal -- for Elise not to stay with her sheep, she says.

"From the day [the sheep] were born you are planning for the fair. Figuring out which ones to sell. What to feed them. Which ones to keep," she says.

Crossing her arms on her stomach because she's cold, Elise leans back in her chair and yawns as she begins her sentence: "This morning it was bad," she says. Cecil, a hefty ram, got sick on Tuesday. "He's in a bad mood. Somebody must have thrown him something and he ate it. He'll be all right, but I have to keep an eye on him."

On a typical daybreak at the fair, Elise wakes after getting about four hours of sleep. She was up until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning tending sheep, corraling them into cages and making sure they were watered down.

"The only thing that kept me up so late is that I kept on working," she says. OK, maybe she had some fun, too, in a water fight with her friends. "My alarm clock doesn't even do anything anymore," she says.

First thing in the morning, Elise waters the sheep, feeds them and walks them. "I don't have to walk them but I prefer to. I always have," she says.

Sharon Murray, assistant superintendent of the sheep department, was looking everywhere for Elise Tuesday afternoon but couldn't find her.

"She's probably resting," says Ms. Murray.

A rare occurrence at the fair.

"Elise basically lives with her sheep. And she helps out a lot with the other kids. Some kids just put in more time," Ms. Murray says.

For example, yesterday Elise woke up to the early morning rain and walked her ewe lamb for a friend who was borrowing it for a showmanship competition.

She can afford to loan them out to be sure -- Elise rakes in enough awards of her own. This year she says she took ribbons in the supreme champion ram, champion ram/colored ram, and champion colored flock, all of which she hangs proudly over her lambs' stalls. How many ribbons over the years? "I've lost count," she says.

Elise says her passion for animals probably began when she little and visited her aunt's nearby farm. "I used to go over there and feed them and play with them. . . . I had so much fun," she says.

But then her aunt moved away.

For five years now, since she was 8, she's raised them.

Elise checks on Cecil (the sick one) again, who is sleeping with his face stuck in a corner. He's shivering slightly.

Elise's brow furrows when she sees the mess Cecil has made in the stall. "I don't know what happened," she says, reaching to scratch Shadow's head.

"He'll be all right. I still really can't think of a better way to spend my vacation," she says.

"This is what's fun. The fair."

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