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Dixon 4-H'ers set the pace at livestock exhibits

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | July 27, 2022 12:00 AM

There are all kinds of things most people think they will never see. Add sheep on a treadmill to the list.

And no, it’s not some weird new physical fitness trend sweeping the nation. Sheep would most likely be oblivious to such a movement.

But the benefit to the animals, and more importantly to the young people who raise and take care of them is indeed a growing part of ranch life. And along the way, the young animal tenders learn lessons most folks aren’t privy to.

“We sometimes come out here (the barn) up to eight times a day,” said Halsey Middlemist, a fifth grade student in the Charlo school system. “It can be a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun also”.

Halsey and her sister Ayden, a seventh grader in Charlo, are part of an active group of youngsters and their parents who grow and raise livestock, in this case sheep, and show them for prizes and profit at more than just the once-a-year livestock exhibitions that are part of local fairs.

As members of the 4-H Charlo Junior Stockgrowers, the two sisters work daily with a herd of sheep they take care of on their parents’ ranch just outside Dixon. And while they attend local 4-H shows like the upcoming Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell next month, they and others have found markets and venues outside the traditional county fairs.

“They go to between eight and 10 Jackpot shows a year,” said their mom, Katelyn Middlemist. “This has become much more than what most people think is a once a year thing”.

And by putting extra miles on their parents’ towing units and trailers at shows throughout the Northwest, the sisters are also learning about taking on even more responsibility than already exists for those who still do participate in mostly local fair livestock shows.

“We can win some good prizes, especially the belt buckles”, said Halsey. “We have both won several buckles this year. It is more work, but we love doing this”.

Part of that task for the soft-spoken, well-mannered sisters, begins with a daily workout on the treadmill.

As the sheep keep pace with the moving treadmill belt, the girls make sure they are working out the proper muscles on their sheep, hoping the extra tone the sheep gain from such an exercise routine will impress the event judges. The determinations reached by the judges are crucial in getting top dollar and/or winning belt buckles, cash and ribbons at the various shows they attend.

“The judges want to see that the animals look like they are in good shape when the girls bring them out for show,” Katelyn said. “They check for things like muscle tone to help judge what kind of shape the animals are in. The treadmill helps keep their leg muscles in good shape”.

The animals the sisters raise are either purchased or leased from Lost Lake Show Lambs in Kalispell. Feed for the hungry critters comes from Dixon Feeds, which the Midddlemists own and operate in conjunction with their Dixon area ranch.

“It takes a lot of time and work to raise the animals to be ribbon winners,” said Ayden, who has a growing collection of rodeo-like buckles to show for her work. “You have to be able to work with them every day, but we like doing this and going to the shows”.

The Middlemist sisters attend between eight and 10 of the “Jackpot” style shows each year. The shows are named for the sharing of prizes from entry fees for those with the best animals.

This coming weekend they will travel to Washington for a show in the rural southeast corner of the state. Other shows they have attended have taken them throughout the state of Montana.

And while the Middlemists also raise cattle on their ranch, they stick to sheep for show and sell purposes.

“It’s a lot easier to haul sheep around than it is cattle,” Katelyn said with a smile.

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Ayden Middlemist strikes a pose with her sheep during a recent Jackpot livestock show. (Photo courtesy of the Middlemist family)

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Fifth-grade student Halsey Middlemist poses with her lamb during a Jackpot style livestock show earlier his month. (Photo courtesy of the Middlemist family)

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