Children raise livestock, then bid tearful goodbye After showing at fair, animals are auctioned

July 14, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Every morning, Heather Carroll, 8, tramps across her front yard in Ellicott City, enters a large pen and feeds her pets -- Brownie the steer and Rose the calf.

Like many Howard County youngsters, Heather is raising livestock for the Howard County Fair, which will be held Aug. 15 to 22. At the fair, the fourth-grader will parade Brownie and Rose around a ring, square their hoofs, show off their hides and tweak them with a show stick, while always smiling.

She hopes to be awarded a winner's purple ribbon -- then say goodbye.

"Brownie's been really nice and tame to me," said Heather, who wants to become a veterinarian. "I know he's going to the butcher. I'll probably be really sad."

About 100 of the 800 Howard County children participating in the fair in the 4-H Club program will show livestock, then sell the animals to the highest bidder during a tearful auction scene where many finally accept the animals' impending deaths.

The tension permeates much of their work before and during the fair.

"Some kids definitely get attached to their animals," said Martin Hamilton, the county's 4-H coordinator. "But they know the end result is that animal goes to market."

This is Heather's first Howard County Fair, but not her family's first. The fair is across Interstate 70 from her great-grandfather George Washington Bowman's former dairy farm, now a golf course. Decades ago, Bowman built many of the fair's buildings, where his children and their children have shown livestock. Now, it's time for Heather and her livestock to compete for best of

breed, showmanship and overall champion.

Heather went to the pen on a recent afternoon, sprayed Brownie with a high-powered hose, then scrubbed his chocolate-swirled coat with a plastic brush. The 1,136-pound beast yawned, slowly blinked his round, brown eyes and slapped Heather with his damp tail.

"Mom, he also has dirty ears," said Heather, who quickly wiped her hands over her overalls.

Heather's mother, Patty, 34, a farm girl at heart and Bowman's granddaughter, persuaded her family to purchase the animals in October. The Carrolls said the animals have brought the family closer together.

"I just knew this is something I want her and [her 5-year-old brother] Austin to do," Patty said, while brushing Brownie's back. "We've talked about the butcher and what will happen to Brownie. We hope that makes it easier."

Rose, the calf, is being bred and will be spared the cleaver.

It's not just first-timers who must cope with caring, parading, grooming and fattening animals for slaughter. Twenty miles away, in Woodbine, an experienced hand is raising two sheep, two pigs and a rented heifer. Brooke Hartner, 9, cried last year after selling her two sheep, Clumsy and Sunny, even though she was determined not to cry. Her mother expects the fifth-grader will cry again.

The Hartner children started raising animals for the fair six years ago -- starting with brother J. J., then Jason, James and now Brooke.

At first, they had a few pigs, then calves and steers and sheep. Now the Hartners have a pen behind their Woodbine home, where they raise nine pigs, six destined for the Howard County and state fairs.

One recent afternoon, Brooke and her father led the sheep around the yard. It was a struggle. One sheep, Chops, his wool sheared the previous day, dragged Brooke across the lawn.

Struggling with livestock

After bracing Chops' head against her thigh and forcing his hoofs into the perfect square stance, Brooke sat in thick grass and smiled.

"I love Chops," said Brooke, as she twirled her boots' shoelaces. "I enjoy feeding [the animals], working with them. Everything depends on me."

Later, inside the small barn, as flies buzzed and pigs oinked, Brooke recalled the Howard County Fair in August and how she refused to cry when her sheep, Clumsy, was sold. She soon broke down and sobbed, a $700 check notwithstanding.

The next month, at the state fair, she cried again -- when a worker suggested Brooke say goodbye to Sunny, the other sheep.

'It hurt'

"I couldn't help it," Brooke said. "I knew they were going away. It hurt."

Like Heather, Brooke works with her animals several hours a day. But she also rents a calf for $1 through the 4-H program at Maple Dell Farm in Lisbon. Twice a week, Brooke leads Runaway Present across the grass by tugging on the calf's halter.

"It's tough on her now," said her father, Jack Hartner, 44, as he knelt and helped control Runaway Present. "I just have to help her now, until it gets used to being led."

In Ellicott City, Heather and Patty have the same problems with Brownie. After attaching a leather halter around the steer's head, Heather guided him down the driveway, as her mother walked close by.

For a time, Brownie trotted straight, then decided to sniff some bushes. While her boots slid and skipped across the gravel, Heather strained against the halter. Despite the struggle, Heather never lost her smile.

Later, Heather fed Brownie 2 1/2 scoops of corn, barley and oats, then sat and rubbed her sunburned cheeks.

Expensive enterprise

It's an expensive enterprise, raising livestock. The Hartners expect to spend about $4,000 to raise two steers, two sheep, two sows, a boar and six piglets. The Carrolls, not counting fixed costs for a new trailer, expect to pay more than $1,000.

The families hope to recover most of their costs when the animals are sold -- a process that takes a little 1990s know-how and direct marketing strategy.

Just like Brooke, Heather has put together a packet of information, including letters and pictures, for prospective buyers. She hopes the effort will lure them to the fair, where they might purchase Brownie for a hefty sum.

"The money will help me get a steer for next year," Heather said. "We can use what's left over for feed and other things we need."

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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