This group celebrated the holiday a week early; that is because it is the Queen Creek 4-H Small Stock group. The four h’s, which stand for head, heart, hands and health in the 4-H pledge, are memorized and recited at each meeting. These kids, ranging in age from 0 to 7 years old, are taught from a young age how to stand straight, walk tall and mind the leash. By kids, I mean goats.
The children handling these animals are anywhere from 9 to 18 years old and have been learning through trial and error how to maintain them for the upcoming Maricopa County Fair, which runs April 11-15.
“The Queen Creek 4-H small stock group has been more beneficial for my daughter than any other 4-H project,” Judy Smith, a 4-H mom, said. “She gains knowledge from being around animals and learning about them. It’s also great how the older kids help the new kids show their animals.”
Some specialize in dealing with one animal, while others train to show all animals that are considered “small stock” (rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and pygmy goats) to qualify for round robin. This is a competition among those who win a first place ribbon to show all the small stock animals to receive the top showmanship honor.
Rabbits are shown on a table that separates the showmen from the judge where the showmen must position their rabbit on the table according to the breed of the rabbit. Small rabbits, like Netherland Dwarves, are perch rabbits, meaning they stand straight on the table with their legs together. Big rabbits, like Flemish Giants, are compact and lay on the table with their rear scooted underneath them. And long rabbits, like Himalayans, are stretched out lengthwise on the table.
Rabbits are judged by their ears, which showmen pop out to ensure they are healthy, eyes, with showmen placing fingers on either side of the eye, and the tail, which is moved from side to side to ensure it is not broken and rubbed with the fingers to note that it is not shedding. The showmen are responsible for showing the underbelly, the front legs, the nose and the teeth of the rabbit to the judge who evaluates the health of the animal.
Guinea pigs, called cavys, are judged similarly as rabbits, but the positioning of the cavy is different due to their sensitive back.
“I love learning about all the animals, their health and how to show them,” said Smith’s daughter Kaitlyn, who has been in 4-H for two years. “I get to see how the different animals act and teach other people about them.”
Kaitlyn will be showing pygmy goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and a pig at the Maricopa County Fair. Her pig will go up for auction after being shown, however, Kaitlyn’s mom does not believe the swine group has taught her daughter as much as the small stock group.
“ The 4-H small stock has been very educational for Kaitlyn,” Smith said. “ They don’t just teach the kids how to show the animals, they teach them how to care for them, how to prevent disease and also how to take care of them if they do get sick.”
When showing pygmy goats, they are walked around a small ring in a circle, making sure the goat is constantly in between the judge and the showman so it can always be seen. When the judge motions, the showmen stop their goats in a single-file line and position their goat’s feet in a square, which is called squaring-up. The goat must maintain this stance while the judge inspects them for injuries, deformations and poor posture.
Fixed males, called wethers, are judged on demeanor, but females and unfixed males are not because of their unruly nature. The showmen are responsible for knowing particular things about their animals that the judge tests them on; such as the goat’s body parts, where pygmy goats originated from and the best ways to treat parasites. The showmen might need to know the four parts of the hoof (toe, sole, heel and wall), that they originated in South Africa and that lice and mites can be treated with Sevendust.
Courtney Anderson has been showing in 4-H for eight years and specializes in pygmy goats. Anderson has won a belt buckle for senior showmanship, the top honor, at the 2011 Maricopa County Fair as well as premier showman at the Kids Showing Kids event in 2010.
“4-H gets me closer to my future career of being a livestock vet specializing in pygmy goats,” Anderson said. “I like being in small stock because it teaches leadership and gets us involved in the community.”
The last animal in small stock is the chicken, which is always held in the showman’s left hand and perched over their left shoulder so it faces toward the judge. While the bird is shouldered, the showmen check the beak by using their right thumb to move the head from side to side.
The wings of the chicken are spread out in front of the showman and then flapped up and down to show there are not any breaks or injuries. The chicken is held to the stomach of the showmen when they are exhibiting the breastbone and feet of the chicken. The judge makes sure the showmen exhibit the skin at the point of the keel, or breastbone, for proper showing technique. The legs of the chicken are extended and the toes are spread with the showman’s right hand to show there are no injuries to the bird.
The showmen must also know specific knowledge of the bird they are holding. Some judges ask the showmen the breed of the bird, if it is a hen or rooster, the color of eggs the hen lays and the type of comb the chicken has on its head.
Anderson’s mom, Vicki Pretty, has been the leader of the Queen Creek 4-H Small Stock group for two years. Pretty said she was originally wrangled into the position, but she learned to love it when she saw kids transforming from not knowing what to do to winning belt buckles.
“It is a great youth program,” Pretty said. “Courtney used to be shy, but 4-H gave her the confidence to show others her knowledge of animals. Now she sees other possibilities life has to offer her.”
Editor’s note: Written by Lindsay Ivins - a sophomore at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and wrote the article for a JMC 301 class.