HANCOCK COUNTY — With an estimated 350 to 400 youth sheep handlers at this year’s Hancock County 4-H Fair, Hancock County Sheep Producers say they have created more than a niche in the market.
“This is the biggest sheep show in the state of Indiana,” sheep producers board member Johnnie Apple said.
As usual, county 4-H organizers set aside a few hours during lunchtime this week to try to keep it that way.
Monday was lamb burger day. It helped sheep producers promote and share a product they think people should be eating more of. The event was one of three that will be held during the fair by meat producers to bring attention to their products. The Hancock County Pork Producers will serve pork chops and pork burgers today. The Hancock County Cattlemen will serve ribeye sandwiches on Thursday.
While lambs have always been used for their wool, lamb meat isn’t quite as popular in the Midwest as it is in the West.
“With our counties in Indiana, you don’t have the big producers like they do out West,” Wilson said.
Brandon Dorrel, a sophomore at Eastern Hancock High School, got involved in the 4-H sheep program a few years ago and said working with and selling sheep for meat just seems normal.
“My dad did it for a while, but he got out of it,” Brandon said. “A few years ago, someone gave us a bottle baby, and that’s when I really got into it.”
Brandon said while other youngsters enjoy working with cattle and pigs, he’s sticking with sheep. His mother, Winona Dorrel, said the whole family enjoys it.
“We really love it,” she said. “I’ll help him a lot with the sheep in breaking them and getting them to lead and all the things that need done, but he puts a lot of hard work into it.”
Sheep producers sold the lamb burgers for $3 apiece, with all the proceeds going back into the 4-H program. Not only did every 4-H sheep participant get a free lamb burger, they’ll have a chance to win some of the cash created from the food sale.
“The money that we get from the lamb burgers, we’re the only producers who pay our participants for placement,” Wilson said. “It gives the kids a little incentive to know if they place they are going to get a little premium money. This is like going to an open show, and this teaches them about the real world if they do want to go out and show.”
The sheep producers will also use some of the funds to buy lambs at the auction on Friday night. The group likes to support members from non-farm families who don’t have the backing of fertilizer companies and other dealers.
“Sometimes, their lambs don’t bring as much money because they are not as well-known,” board member Keith Wilson said. “So, sometimes we’ll kick in a little money.”
When it comes down to the lamb burger taste, those who ate it Monday said they are pretty good.
“They kind of taste a little bit like a normal hamburger, but they are a little different,” Carson Bearhope said while putting ketchup on his sandwich.
Mike Lewis, assistant supervisor for the county swine program, said it’s great 4-H Fair officials give the producers a chance to showcase their products.
“It’s just kind of a good tradition,” said Lewis, the father of past and present 4-H participants. “We’ve been out here doing this for years. My dad did it before me, and I’ve been doing it for 25 or 30 years.”
The Hancock County Pork Producers, who will be serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, will donate a burger to every 4-H swine participant, and they will use the proceeds of sales today to support the program.
While their youth participation numbers aren’t as high as with sheep, Lewis said 166 youngsters are taking part in the swine program this year. That’s a steady number of participants.
“Since we picked up the mini-pig (program, which encourages younger children to participate in 4-H), we kind of picked up some kids doing it their first year,” Lewis said. “We don’t have the longevity like we used to have where we’d have those 10-year members.”
The cattlemen’s group will sell steak sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.