Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

April 23, 2014

Rural smallholders host annual show

Organization hopes to educate public on farm-to-table production

TAHLEQUAH — More and more, many people are showing growing interest in learning the sources of their food, including meat. As such, interest in farm-to-table living is increasing.

Saturday, the Rural Smallholders Association held its annual spring show at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds, promoting the farming of sheep and goats, along with giving the general public a sample of their products.

RSA President Tony Hallum said turnout was a little lighter than normal, with about 40-50 members showing, but it could have been due to it being a holiday weekend.

“We were a little disappointed in the turnout; it was a little lower than expected,” said Hallum. “I think it being held on Easter weekend had something to do with it. But all in all, I was appreciative of those who did attend. We had a good number of our members come, but in the future we’d like to engage more of the public at large.”

Those participating in the show were required to be members of the RSA, and competed in three categories of sheep and goats. Categories for sheep included: One ram and two ewes, one ewe and two lambs, or three lambs. Categories for goats included one billy and two nannies, one nanny and two kids, or three kids.

The day began with smallholders off-loading their animals and getting them set up for the show.

“About 9:30 a.m., we passed out ballots with the different categories on them to the members,” said RSA Secretary Henry Dill. “The paid members serve as judges and vote for six $50 winners, those winners go on to vote for grand-prize winner. This year, the grand prize was a livestock chute, built by RSA Vice President Randy Hutchins.”

This year’s grand-prize winners were the Pearl family, of Muskogee, including Philip and Amy and their two daughters, Antonia and Talia. The family’s grand-prize winning entry was in the goat category, with a nannie and two kids. Other winners included Junior Gonzales of Hulbert and Henry Dill, also of Hulbert.

“That chute is a nice piece of equipment,” said Hallum. “Our vice president, Randy Hutchins, builds one every year which he sells to the RSA for the grand prize. I’d say the retail value is about $1,300. The family that won it is just starting out raising goats and is looking to expand to sheep, so it made a nice prize. Chutes are essential tools when raising sheep and goats.”

All animals shown are for sale by private treaty, meaning the transaction is strictly between the animal owner and the buyer.

Following the balloting, attendees were treated to an educational presentation. Dill served as this year’s speaker, and talked about the basics of sheep and goat management.

“Our goal is education,” said Hallum. “We are a 501(c)3 organization, and as such, we provide a lot of education for local small farmers and ranchers. We normally try to have a veterinarian or someone from Oklahoma State University speak, but this year, we decided to have a member who has a lot experience. Someone who’s new to the business, or even old hands like me, can learn something new from listening to someone like Dill. I told Henry it’s good to have someone  who’s actually in the business to talk about their experiences.”

Following the presentation, participants were served lunch that featured RSA products.

“We slaughtered a couple of market lambs, ground them into patties and had lamb burgers,” said Hallum. “We grilled outside and fed everyone who attended. We do that every year. It helps promote our own product and we feed people what we’re raising.”

Hallum believes there’s a lot of misconception about small animals and their food value.

“Forty or 50 years ago, a lot more people consumed lamb meat than they do today,” said Hallum. “That’s why we have these seminars and shows, to build public awareness about farm-to-table eating. Once folks get a taste of the lamb, the reaction is generally positive. Most people seem to like it. It’s like anything else, you don’t know until you try it.”

Hallum was raised on a large cattle ranch, but enjoys working a small farm. The RSA is a diverse group of farmers and ranchers who earn less than $250,000 annually.

“Production is on the rise for sheep and goats,” said Hallum. “These animals are ideally suited for small landowners, as you can put quite a few animals on a small parcel of land. It gets people engaged in farming without having to break the bank. That’s how I got into it; I bought 19 acres several years ago, tried the sheep business and never looked back.”

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

To find out more about the Rural Smallholders Association, visit. tahlequahTDP.com.

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

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