The Last Word

All American Sheep Day Showcases Every Facet of Industry

Sheep Industry News Editor

Kids, dogs, shearers and sheep were everywhere you looked at the 2019 All American Sheep Day in Rapid City, S.D., on Jan. 31. The annual event is part of the Black Hills Stock Show and has proven a great way to promote the American sheep industry in the area.

Because it routinely falls just after (or sometimes during) the ASI Annual Convention, this was the first time I’d had the chance to attend. I was impressed by the crowds on hand early in the day for the Black Hills Stock Show National Shearing Championships, as well as those who came out that evening for mutton bustin’ and the finals of the sheepdog trials. Throughout the day, members of the Kitzan and Erk families – both longtime Black Hills sheep producers – served up samples of American lamb.

South Dakota State University Extension Sheep Field Specialist Dave Ollila should get most of the credit for the day’s success. While he recruits plenty of help from area producers and others in the industry, he and his wife, Holly, are a constant presence during the day at the James Kjerstad Event Center on the Central States Fairgrounds. Dave arranged for demonstrations of wool testing with the OFDA 2000, demonstrations of ultrasound equipment for checking loin eye and pregnancy, and more. Local hand spinners were onsite to demonstrate their craft, as well.

But the highlights of the day are the shearing championship, the sheep dog trials and the mutton bustin’. You can read more about the shearing championships on page 14. It was the first time I had witnessed such a competition in person, and I definitely learned a thing or two.

What impressed me the most was the emphasis put on quality within the competition. It wasn’t enough to get the job done fast, shearers were constantly watched and scored for quality during their time on the stand, and a second set of judges reviewed every sheep in the pens after shearing, as well.

I was also surprised to see standing-room only crowds throughout much of the day. With five divisions, the competition ran from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. or so, and then the shearers had to finish working their way through the sheep they hadn’t already sheared during the competition. It was after 6 p.m. before the awards were handed out, but the crowd was still there to cheer on the winners.

The sheep dog trials proved challenging in the preliminary round, as only a handful of dogs were able to complete the course before the 2:30 time limit expired. The preliminary round ran most of the day in front of sporadic crowds. While I didn’t make it until the end of the competition, the dogs that did advance into the semifinals and finals seemed to be putting on a solid show for the large evening crowd.

The mutton busters warmed up that crowd with the usual collection of great rides and spectacular spills. Even back in my days of covering rodeo, I’ve always had an appreciation for those kids who manage to hold on to that sheep regardless of what it might do. Even when the sheep stops, they cling tightly – often already hanging off one side – until they are pried loose by arena personnel.

If you have some free time around the end of January next year, I’d recommend you put All American Sheep Day on your calendar.

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