By: Taneen Momeni
A chorus of bleats echoed through the farm at the University of Maryland (UMD) as lambs paraded to the Block and Bridle club’s livestock show on April 30. Visitors attending the university’s first Maryland Day celebration since 2019 crowded around a pen to get a good look at the 3-month-old lambs being readied for the competition by their student handlers.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, students in the university’s Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) and Animal Sciences programs were able to show the lambs, pigs and dairy heifers that live on campus.
Sarah Balcom, a principal lecturer with AGNR, explained that showcasing the lambs was only one part of a more complex equation. Although the lambs were most obviously being assessed, judges were more focused on evaluating the student handlers, who had been working with their lambs for three to four weeks before the show to familiarize them with the feeling of having their heads held and their legs touched, and to being haltered and led.
Anthony Righter, emcee of the livestock show and a freshman at the university, confirmed Balcom’s thoughts about the competition. “It’s a showmanship show. The animals are not being judged, but the showman is being judged on how well they can show their animals. So that’s how well they can control the animal, how well they can show the animal to the judge. And that’s what the judge is looking for,” he said. Winners of each group have a chance to show their skills more than once during additional rounds of judging.
The event brought a bit of drama when Milly, a feisty lamb with a plan of her own, escaped her handler’s grasp and dashed around the pen. Sullivan Haine, Milly’s handler, sprung into action and snagged the escapee, albeit with a bit of help. Despite the lamb’s escapades, Haine and Milly won the entire livestock show, thanks, in large part, to their composure throughout the judging.
“I didn’t really expect [to win]. My lamb got away from me, and I thought it was all over … [Dr. Monica VanKlompenburg] was coaching me from the sidelines, and she was, like, ‘Just keep your cool,’ and I think I did,” said Haine, who was participating in the event for the first time. “This is my first time ever at a livestock show like this … It’s very nice to be out and around people again and be able to put on an event like this during COVID[-19]. I’m just excited to be here,” Haine added.
AGNR sponsors competitive showings not only to advance students’ experience, but also to educate the community about the university’s agricultural program and to highlight the fact that farm animals live on campus. Today’s University of Maryland was chartered as the Maryland Agricultural College in 1856.
“[Livestock shows] are more for now, public education and a way to sort of celebrate the animals that we’ve raised. We really want people to come to the farm and learn about agriculture,” Balcom said. “So this is a really big opportunity to bring all these people in Maryland to a small but working farm and talk to them a little bit about where their food comes from, what our challenges and opportunities are, and just to have fun.”
“[Participating in Maryland Day] is amazing.” Righter said, noting that he sees the event as an opportunity for the community to explore the farm and learn about programs at UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.“I hope that they learn more about how much the university cares about agriculture and the industry. I hope they take home also that the students are really involved here. It’s not just you come, and learn and leave; you come, you experience new experiences that you can take home, and maybe you’ll do it after graduation.”