Tahlequah Daily Press

May 15, 2013

Bragging rights

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Small-acreage farming is gaining popularity on the local level, and area residents had an opportunity to visit with experienced smallholders and learn more about raising small herds of animals Saturday.

The Rural Smallholders Association in Cherokee County held its annual spring sale and seminar Saturday, featuring the members’ goat and sheep show. The RSA  is a diverse group of farmers and ranchers who earn less than $250,000 annually. The organization’s goal is to provide opportunities for education about small farming and ranching enterprises.

As the event ramped up, RSA member Carol Gonzales and her two granddaughters – Carleigh, 13, and Kaylin, 10 – were setting up a table of refreshments for attendees.

“The girls helped us get the animals ready for the show today,” said Carol. “We’re showing goats and sheep.”

The girls attend Shady Grove School and are members of 4-H.

“I like just being with the animals,” said Carleigh.

The girls have learned a lot about raising and caring for sheep and goats.

“They’ve gotten smart about getting attached to the animals; they only pick the girls, now, because they know we sell the boys,” said Gonzales.

Dorma Day, of Wagoner, herded her goats in early, talking to them as if they were children. One reluctant participant chose to hide out under the trailer, forcing several of RSA members to drop to their bellies on the blacktop and reach under the rig to coax “Coat of Many Colors” into the chute.

Natasha James, daughter-in-law of Ben James, all of Okay, enlisted the help of her children – Teagan, 5 and Tayte, not quite 2 – with her entry.

“We’re showing one set of sheep, a mom and her babies,” said Natasha.

Teagan was excited about the show.

“I got to pick the little white goat for grandpa to show,” said Teagan.

According to Ben, the Rural Smallholders Association bylaws promise the organization will provide classes to inform the public about raising small herds of animals.

“That’s how the sheep show started,” said Ben. “It’s a competition among members, and we’ll have speakers talk to folks about caring for sheep and goats.”

Ben raises the animals and sells them for meat, and has customers from as far south as Texas.

“It’s something anyone can do, even an old man like me,” said Ben. “And people can raise these animals on small acreages. I know  Cherokees over here in these parts like to raise sheep and goats because sometimes their property is rocky or on a hill, which is hard for farming or raising cattle, but perfect for sheep and goats.”

Randy Hutchins, RSA vice president, said the organization formed about seven years ago, and membership has waxed and waned in that time.

On Saturday, every animal was for sale.

“But by private treaty, only,” said Hutchins. “That means the sale is strictly between the animal owner and the buyer.”

Hutchins said they find experienced smallholders to conduct the classes at the event, some of whom are often members of the association. Saturday’s speakers included Bud Scott, Dr. Ann Wells and Dr. David Sparks, who covered topics like managing animal health problems, shelter, protection from predators and marketing techniques.

The competition was for RSA members only, and was divided into six classes, three for sheep and three for goats. The three classes included a set of three youth, a female and two babies, or a breeding pair and a baby.

“The paid members are the judges, and each one gets a vote,” said Hutchins. “The six winners get $50 each, and go on to judge and determine the grand prize winner.”


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