Show animals: For 4-H kids, responsibility comes with four legs

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal


Carley Pettigrew doesn’t need an alarm clock anymore.
The 18-year-old from Plantersville has about 20 bleating goats and two lambs in the backyard, and it’s her job to tend them in the morning. They make a ruckus, reminding Carley of her responsibility.
“After 5 years, I’m used to it,” she said. “If I go on a school trip somewhere, I’m still up at 6 in the morning. My friends will say, ‘Why are you up this early in the morning?’ It’s just what I do.”
With help from her family, Carley travels the state to show her goats and lambs in 4-H and Future Farmers of America shows. She’s built up a nice collection of awards, and she’ll tell you winning is about the day-to-day work she does at home.
“You have to train them. You have to feed them,” she said. “You have to make sure they’re healthy, that they don’t have any illnesses. You have to clean out the stalls, and clean their hooves. It’s a lot”
Showing goats, lambs or cattle requires big investments in time and energy. It takes serious dedication from Carley and other young people who walk into show rings around the state.
“We try not to think about how much time goes into it or how much money we spend,” said Carley’s father, Sam Pettigrew. “It’s sort of like going to a movie. You pay your money for a ticket and when you leave, say, ‘I’ve been entertained.’”
To paraphrase comedian Bill Cosby, if they’re not careful, they might learn a thing or two before it’s through.
“It allows the kids to develop responsibility,” said David Hidalgo, who has children who tend calves. “It’s a very good thing.”
Caitlin Hidalgo, 11, and her brother, Connor, 8, take care of Red Angus calves at their parents’ metal barn in Beecher.
They don’t have as many animals as Carley, but the Hidalgos need to put in long hours with Cher, Yancy and Isabella if they want to win in the show ring.
“In the morning, I come out at 6 o’clock,” Connor said. “At night, I come out here at 8. I work with Isabella until 8:30 or so. I do my homework first.”
After brushing his calf recently, Connor kicked heavy tubs of feed into their pens, while Caitlin filled water buckets. Some of the work they do on their own, and their dad helps with other tasks.
“They’re kids, so we get them up and send them to it,” Hidalgo said. “We follow up and make sure they do it right. It’s like getting a dog for your kids. You make sure they feed them because they’re kids.”
As with anything involving their children, parents have to decide how much they should do.
“For the most part, Carley does her own feeding. For some kids, it’s like a school project,” Pettigrew said. “A lot of parents do school projects for their kids and the kids aren’t learning anything.”
At the same time, Carley, Caitlin and Connor wouldn’t be able to show animals without serious parental support. That’s one of the pluses, Pettigrew said.
“We get to spend a lot of time together as a family,” he said. “It’s a team sport that involves the whole family. That’s what we get out of it most.”
Carley’s dad, mom and brother, Ethan, all help out when the occasion calls for it. Both mom and dad can drive the truck and pull the trailer, and Ethan’s been known to shave a goat to get it in show form while his sister works with other goats.
Because of their ages, Caitlin and Connor might need more support as they learn what it takes to take care of their show animals.
“The older kids do more than the younger kids,” Hidalgo said.
Cows, goats and lambs are farm animals, so there could be some tough lessons when the time comes to send them to market.
The Hidalgo children won’t go through that with Cher, Yancy and Isabella.
“We’re going to put them out in our pasture when we’re done showing them,” said Caitlin, though she is raising another calf for market.
At first blush, Carley might sound hard-hearted about sending her under-performing goats to market.
“You’ve got a firm line. They’ve got to be above that line,” she said. “If they fall on the line or lower, they’re gone.”
She’s not fond of eating goat meat, but if she were, her firm line would soften.
“I’ll eat somebody else’s. I don’t want to eat mine,” she said. “I’ve seen mine as babies and worked with them every day.
“Feed it to me,” she continued, “but don’t tell me where it’s from.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com