GREENFIELD — Sixteen-year-old Jenna Schnarr scrolled through her phone beneath a popup tent at the Hancock County Fairgrounds Thursday morning as a chorus of sheep baaed from their nearby pens.
The Cicero teen was among the first to arrive for the third annual Youth Sheep Expo, which drew roughly 1,000 sheep to the fairgrounds July 28-31.
Her friend, 15-year-old Lilly Williamson, was fast asleep on a chair nearby, with only the soles of her shoes sticking out beneath a blanket.
The two friends, who attend Indiana Agriculture & Technology School in Carmel, were among the dozens of kids and young adults — ages 5 through 21 — who devote four days each summer to attending the national sheep show.
Kiersten Rexing’s two sheep — Brandy and Harley — shuffled anxiously in the bed of a silver Silverado before they were transferred to a nearby pen Thursday morning.
All three livestock barns at the fairgrounds were taken over by the expo, which is hosted by the Indiana Livestock Association.
“We have three rings of sheep going all at once, so we’re able to get a lot done in a fairly short amount of time,” said the livestock association’s founder and president, Debbie Vansickle of Greenfield.
This year’s expo drew participants from 15 states — in addition to one participant Canada — all of whom competed for top honors.
Many had participated every year since the expo’s inception two years ago.
Lloyd Arthur, who co-chairs the expo with Vansickle, created the event in 2020 to give young people a venue for showing sheep as a number of sheep shows were being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abbey Hughes, a recent Greenfield-Central High School graduate, said the inaugural event was a saving grace in a year marred by uncertainty.
“As other shows were being canceled and county fairs were scaled back, the Youth Sheep Expo still took place, which gave us all hope and something to look forward to,” said Hughes, 19, who serves on the national Youth Sheep Expo council.
“It’s a show put on by the youth, for the youth,” she said.
For young people who devote much of their lives to raising and showing sheep, Hughes said the ability to show them on a national level while meeting others who share the same passion is a tremendous opportunity.
While the expo is a competitive event — top prizes include $1,000 each for the best ram and best ewe — most participants are excited for the chance to exchange phone numbers and social media contacts with fellow attendees, she said.
“This is where a lot of the (livestock) business takes place,” said Rexing, who once bought a sheep from a fellow expo participant from Minnesota.
“People come here and meet each other and see the livestock and end up making connections that can lead to business relationships,” said the Evansville woman, who serves as the assistant sheep superintendent for the Gibson County Fair.
While she’s currently building her flock of dorset sheep, dorsets were just one of 21 breeds featured at this year’s expo. The event also featured a trade show which drew roughly 130 vendors this year.
For Jarrod Neumeister of Greenfield, this year’s Youth Sheep Expo was a family affair.
Around 10 a.m. Thursday, he and three of his brothers worked as a team, shearing and grooming one of the many sheep he brought to the expo this year.
“We’re just shaping him up and trying to make him look pretty,” said Neumeister, 19, as the clippers buzzed and clumps of wool fell at his feet.