WITH THE Howard County Fair just three weeks away, the Biegel family is busy preparing animals for the competition. Three of the family's four children are raising livestock to show at the fair under the auspices of the Dayton 4-H club.
The Biegels, who live near the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel, are veterans. They've been a 4-H family for five years.
Paula Biegel says it all started with her oldest son Matt's interest in rabbits. Having joined the Dayton 4-H, he raised and bred a few. But the big push toward animal husbandry came when Paula noticed that the family's 2-acre back yard looked a bit weedy and was full of ticks. She sent her husband Neil and Matt to buy a goat to mow the area organically. They came back with two lambs instead.
While lambs are cute, they are fussier eaters than goats. It turned out that the lambs needed a diet of grain and feed, not weeds. They also needed a pen. So from that modest beginning, the family graduated to more livestock.
Matt, a 16-year-old junior at River Hill High School, will be exhibiting two hogs, two lambs and a rabbit at the fair this year. His sister, Robyn, 11, who attends Lime Kiln Middle School, is raising a hog and two lambs, and brother Brian will show pigs, sheep and a steer.
Brian, 8, is not old enough to raise animals for the fair. But under the auspices of a junior leader, an older 4-H club member, Brian is learning how to take care of and show livestock. He will be judged on what he knows during the fair; his junior leader will be judged on how well he taught Brian.
The business end of the fair comes after the judging, when animals are auctioned to the public. According to Matt, animals must meet a minimum weight to be sold. As the 260-pound pigs can bring in $2 a pound, young farmers can receive quite a payoff.
4-H Club members are allowed to sell one animal per species. Those, like Matt, who raise several try to find buyers privately for their animals. The family makes the arrangements for slaughter and butchering. The buyer gets premium quality meat.
"This is his summer job," Paula Biegel said. "He just gets his paycheck in late August."
Matt prefers tending pigs to tending sheep. "The lambs are more challenging," he said. "They're not really bright," so teaching them how to walk around the ring is not easy.
The pigs, on the other hand, are harder to get to market weight, but the lambs are fussier eaters, Matt said. And the lambs have to be shorn a few days before the show so that they have only a 1/8 -inch pile of wool when they are judged at the fair.
Whatever the pros and cons of their animal project, the Biegels have found a solution to the tick problem in their back yard. This year, they are keeping a small flock of Guinea Keets - exotic birds who love ticks. The birds can't be shown yet - they're too young - but Matt and his family will be back at the fair next year with their new flock in tow.
All this husbandry keeps the Biegels busy from early spring, when young animals are bought, to August, when they are sold. "We plan our summer around the animals and football," Paula Biegel said.
Kevin Biegel, 14, who will be a freshman at River Hill High School in the fall, is not interested in 4-H activities. But he is a football player, and practices begin next month.
The Howard County Fair, at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, will run from Aug. 4 to 11.
Susan Maranto, children's librarian at the Savage branch library, reports that children are indeed "buggy" for reading this summer. As of last month, the Savage branch had enrolled more than 1,000 elementary school-age children in the library's summer reading program, "Buggy About Reading."
Unlike previous summer reading games, this one has prizes that can be redeemed only after certain dates. The new arrangement keeps speedy readers from finishing the game quickly, prolonging the reading season well into August.
Take to the trail
The Freestate Happy Wanderers, a walking club, invites everyone to walk through the historic sections of Laurel and environs Aug. 4. Two trails will be marked: a 5-kilometer and an 11-kilometer for the more ambitious.
The walk begins and ends at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, Eighth and Main streets in Laurel. The walk is free, but registration is required. A registration table will be available between 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the school.
It's a great way to meet people and get a bit of exercise. The walk officially ends at 2 p.m., so there's time to take in a movie later in the day. Information: 410-437-2164.