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Plateau students ready for livestock show and sale

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

It's not an odd sight to see Elly Burrill and Holly Leighton walk their lambs around their Enumclaw neighborhoods.

Granted, their boroughs aren't downtown, but, for example, Burrill's home sits on the outskirts of the city limits in a subdivision of homes on one-acre lots.

Enumclaw and White River high school FFA leaders say it doesn't matter where a student lives, if they want to participate in the program, they'll find them an animal and a place to raise it.

Across the Plateau, 4-H and FFA students ranging from 9 years old to seniors in high school are raising lambs, hogs and steers for the Northwest Junior Livestock Show and Sale April 17-20 at the Puyallup Spring Fair. A live auction at 10 a.m. April 20 culminates the four-day event of competition and activities. Proceeds of the auction benefit student agriculture programs.

“If the kids really want to do it, we can find them a place,” Enumclaw High FFA advisor Gary Parkert said.

“Usually we don't have an issue,” said Todd Miller, Parkert's counterpart at White River. “Several kids have relatives or neighbors who will let them keep an animal there.”

For those who don't have the facilities, there is always someone who will step forward. At Enumclaw High, there is also the barn on campus, which now is filled with hogs fattening up for the fair.

White River High's barn wasn't able to make the move to the new campus, but that's not hurting the program, Miller said.

In recent years, both programs have seen fewer students who come from “traditional” farms, but FFA participation is still strong.

“Kids want to do it,” Parkert said. “They're not necessarily kids raised with it like a lot of the kids we used to have.”

“The numbers are down, but not by a lot,” Miller said. “Steers are down because of the cost to raise them and the amount of land it takes. Our numbers have been pretty much the same.”

“Enumclaw once had 15 steers,” Parkert said. “Back when Enumclaw was a more agricultural community - and it (the show) was at the fairgrounds.”

The Livestock Show and Sale tradition began in 1947 at the Auburn Stockyards and moved to Enumclaw in the 1970s when the stockyards closed. In recent years it was moved to the Western Washington Fairgrounds in conjunction with the Puyallup Spring Fair.

White River will enter one steer at the livestock show and Enumclaw will have two. Ganados 4-H club will bring 11 pigs, two lambs and four steers. There are many other Plateau-area 4-H clubs that will be participating as well.

Enumclaw High FFA will enter 17 hogs; White River 23. White River will also enter two lambs. Enumclaw has three - Jolly, Molly and Polly - raised by Burrill and Leighton.

The EHS juniors are learning a lot about caring for an animal, and that, Parkert said, is the point behind the program.

“They learn they have to take care of that animal every day,” Parkert said. “That means Christmas. That means when they don't feel like it; when they're tired; when it's pouring down rain or freezing cold. That animal is their responsibility. They develop a good work ethic and they go into real life with that work ethic and see that it pays off.”

Both young ladies have been involved with horses since they were young, but lambs were new to them.

“I always wanted to get into FFA,” Burrill said. “I'd heard sheep are pretty easy and good for your first year. We didn't have enough property for a steer.”

An equine science class sparked her interest. Last year was her first try at raising a lamb. Her lamb did well at the show and brought a good price at the sale, so this year she's raising a pair. She encouraged Leighton to raise one, too.

“It's pretty fun,” Leighton said.

Burrill learned a lot last year. This year she's learning more.

“These lambs are really hard to find,” said Burrill said, who picked up the youngster in Mount Vernon in January. The purchase price for the Suffolk went up $50, so did feed. She'll have to market harder to make up the difference.

“Raising one lamb is easier than two,” Burrill is also finding out. She said once the two are together it doesn't take long for the flock mentality to hit. She's finding it's better to keep them separated.

The hardest part has been halter training the lamb for the show arena, both girls said. Show is important, Burrill explained, because the higher the lamb places the more money a student can earn.

“Persistence pays off,” Leighton said. “It takes patience. My lamb is pretty good.”

Students also learn how to market their product. Lining up buyers and supporters will cover expenses and put money in the bank.

“The marketing, that's the big thing,” Miller said.

That's where Burrill put her profit last year after she paid her dad back for expenses - in the bank. Leighton is hoping to use any money above her expenses to purchase a horse to replace the one she had to sell.

“It's prime meat,” said Don Burrill, Elly's dad, who was also a purchaser last year. “I couldn't believe the difference.”

He was happy to see his daughter get involved again.

“In my mind, this is a wholesome activity,” he said.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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