Loving Lambs: Livestock Builds Family Bonds
Jana and Van Alldredge with their daughters, Ella, 6, and Madie, 11, left, take a break in the shade after practicing their lambs.
Showing lambs might not be the most popular hobby for youth in Alabama, but the bond between Blountsville’s Madie Alldredge and her lambs Elvis, Presley and Prince means more than any championship.
Madie, 11, found a buddy in her first lamb, Oreo, who followed her around like a puppy, although he was twice her size. In the show ring, Madie said Oreo gave her a sense of security that made her feel more confident in front of the crowd.
Jana Alldredge, Madie’s mother, said her daughter was shy until age 5 when she won showmanship at her first lamb show.
“I looked at my husband when she won and said, ‘This is it. She’s found her thing,’” Jana said.
Van Alldredge is an agriscience teacher and FFA adviser at J.B. Pennington High School and serves as show coach for daughters Madie and 6-year-old Ella.
He recommends how to best manage their sheep for success at the 10 county and state shows they attend across Alabama each fall.
Although daily care of the lamb is Madie’s responsibility, Van said he helps with shearing wool and washing lambs and drives as far as Nebraska to purchase top-notch animals.
“We want to give it our best effort together to win,” Van said.
Madie said showing lambs motivates her to give her all in every aspect of life.
“If I didn’t show lambs, I probably wouldn’t be as serious about things as I am,” said Madie, who made all As this past school year and has the highest GPA in sixth grade.
About seven miles down the road from the Alldredge farm, the Smith family of Guntersville is preparing their own flock for the show ring.
Mackenzie Smith, 8, has already won two belt buckles since she started showing at age 4 and plans to win more.
“Every day, we come out to the barn to exercise the lambs and practice what we’ll do in the show ring,” Mackenzie said.
Lambs are only two to three months old when weaned from their mother ewes for training. Ideally, showmen place their left hand under the lamb’s chin with their right hand behind the lamb’s ears, leading with no halter. The showman must also train the animal to brace itself with its muscles flexed for judging.
“Market lambs are judged for their muscling to determine which animals will produce the best lamb chops,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Meat Goat & Sheep Division Director Nate Jaeger. “Sheep are unique in that they can be judged for meat, breeding value or wool. Typically, in Alabama, you’ll only see meat and breeding animals.”
Kirk Smith, Mackenzie’s father, serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Meat Goat & Sheep State Committee. He said he wanted Mackenzie and her 7-year-old brother, Mason, to show lambs before later showing cattle, but then they got hooked. They plan to continue showing sheep in addition to cattle.
“We started this as a small program, and it exploded,” said Kirk, who serves on Blount County Farmers Federation’s board of directors. “They each had one lamb the first year, and this year, they had four each.”
The Smiths raise their show lambs on the family farm, and the family Christmas card features Mackenzie and Mason with their lambs.
The hard work it takes to raise a lamb develops a sense of responsibility in youth, said Kirk, who teaches agriscience and advises FFA at Appalachian High School.
“It means more when we win with something we raised,” he said.
For these families, the most rewarding aspect of showing lambs isn’t necessarily the large, polished belt buckle — although that doesn’t hurt.
“My kids have friends who live hours away, but as soon as they see each other at shows, they pick up right where they left off,” Kirk said. “Friendships and family time are the most important thing.”
Those interested in showing lambs should contact their local Alabama Cooperative Extension System county coordinator.