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Ten-year-old Will Stuthman plans to keep his grand champion title in this year’s Platte County Fair 4-H Livestock Show that is ongoing until Sunday.

Stuthman, a student from Shell Creek Elementary School in Columbus, entered his sheep in the show for the first time last year and said he was left speechless when he was announced as grand champion in the sheep division.

This year’s competition gathered up to 350 exhibitors within Platte County, showcasing a variety of livestock, such as sheep, goats, horses, poultry, rabbits, pigs, beef and dairy cattle.

Stuthman learned the ropes of raising sheep from various showmen, livestock breeders, and his father, Eric, who picked up interest in it 25 years ago. The family currently raises sheep and cows.

Will spends most of his days helping his parents feed, wash and groom the sheep, preparing them for the fair. He began preparing his sheep for the show in January and entered a total of six.

Jill Goedeken, extension educator for Nebraska Extension's northeast district, said raising livestock takes a lot of work and time, especially when it comes to preparing for shows. She said she enjoys seeing youth participate in the competition, adding she knows it comes with months of hard work and responsibilities.

“The livestock project is really great for teaching responsibilities,” Goedeken said. “The animals, of course, needs to be fed and watered and we know that it’s definitely a family affair, but we (also) know that the youth out there spend a large portion of the time watering and feeding and then working with their animals to tame them down and get them to be show ready.”

Will said he plans to stick to what he knows to excel in the competition, making sure the sheep are healthy and well-groomed.

“Different species have different requirements and so it depends on the animal and the end goal would be,” Goedeken added.

Those who don’t normally come across farm animals in their daily lives are in luck because fair attendees can take a closer look at all of the different animals competing in the show until Sunday. The Lakeview FFA Children’s Barnyard, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., has a variety of animals for attendees to pet, such as rabbits, ducklings, horses, goats and kittens.

The winners are selected by a panel of judges and will be announced at the end of the fair.

Eric said the winner is oftentimes based on the judge’s deliberations on the sheep’s structure, muscle definition and disposition, noting the family works hard to ensure their sheep excel in all these characteristics.

“Every year is a different year,” he said. “It’s (based) on one judge’s opinion on a given day.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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