Kerri Coder and her husband were city kids who could not wait to get a little bit of land and raise farm animals. When they moved to the outskirts of Battle Ground, they immediately acquired chickens, a good first introduction to livestock. But one of Kerri’s friends was the leader of a sheep 4-H club, Elite Livestock, and so Kerri thought it would be fun for her kids to be involved as well.

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Madeline Coder is pictured with her Wensleydale twin lambs. Photo courtesy: Kerri Coder

“They learn how to keep records and how to provide excellent care to their animals,” says Kerri. “And they learn responsibility, including how to handle money and do business with the public. It’s great.”

All five of Kerri’s youngest children have participated in 4-H. The eldest two, Josh and Grace, have even been on the Clark County Fair Junior Advisory Board. On the board they get to learn about how the fair works and how to take the reins of a project. Last year, Grace headed a project to promote hand-washing at the fair. So she designed signs with cute sayings such as “While hare be sure to wash your hands,” which was posted in the rabbit barn. She then had the signs professionally printed. It is another way 4-H teaches kids about business and helps them gain leadership experience. Grace is on the board again this year.

Zachary, 13, and Megan, 11, will both have market lambs at the fair this year. Madeline, Megan’s twin, has a market lamb and wool sheep.

“It’s fun to have something to do with your sheep and meet new people,” says Madeline. “And I like the community service aspect of 4-H as well.”

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Zachary Coder shows off one of his market lambs in 2016. Photo courtesy: Kerri Coder

“We also like hanging out with our friends,” Megan adds. The club is large with roughly 30 kids. It is one of the most extensive sheep projects in the county.

While Zachary enjoys hanging with friends, too, he is more interested in the husbandry side of 4-H. “I really like needing to care for my animals,” he explains. “I like having standards I have to pass in order to sell it. I like teaching an animal to sit in a brace, taking care of it when it’s sick. I enjoy doing the care part.” He adds that he is considering a career as a veterinarian. For a 13-year-old, Zachary is very articulate – something market animal 4-H fosters in kids since they have to go out to businesses and ask them to bid on their animals or donate at the junior livestock auction.

He also does not pull any punches. He is quick to say that his cute, blonde sisters tend to get more money at auction than he does. But he is not a sore loser – he just enjoys spending time with his sheep.

Preserving a Rare Sheep Breed

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Zachary, Madeline and Megan Coder are pictured with two of their sheep. Photo credit: Kerri Coder

Madeline has departed a bit from the rest of the family by choosing also to raise wool sheep, which are not sold at market. But she does not have just any old wool sheep. Madeline has Wensleydales – a breed that even I had never heard of, and I grew up around all kinds of livestock. It turns out there was a good reason for this. The breed is from north Yorkshire, England, and you cannot import a sheep to the United States. So, in the late 1990s, a breeder crossed other long-wool ewes with Wensleydales via artificial insemination (A.I.). The offspring were 50 percent Wensleydale, which were then bred back via A.I., to build the breed slowly in the United States. In order for one to be considered purebred in the States, it has to be at least 95-percent Wensleydale.

Madeline got lucky and purchased her 95-percent ewe from a 4-Her who was graduating high school and going to college. Using A.I., she bred her to a 100 percent Wensleydale, and this year welcomed her first “100 percent” Wensleydale twins, two ewes. These are the first in her sheep 4-H project.

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Madeline, Zachary and Megan use grain to get their older sheep to come to them. On the left is a breeding market sheep (Suffolk/Hampshire cross) and on the right are two of the Wensleydales. Photo credit: Kristina Lotz

It is clear the Wensleydales are Madeline’s favorite – her eyes light up when she talks about them. “Her market lamb is pretty much to support her wool sheep,” Kerri says.

“I’m keeping them for now, but I may have to sell next year’s babies,” Madeline explains. “Because we don’t have the land for more.”

Madeline competes in wool at the fair with these. “The previous owner came over and showed me how to rinse out their curls and blow-dry them. This is important,” her mom explains, “because if you scrub them with shampoo the wool will actually felt on the animal.”

Getting Ready for the Clark County Fair

All three children have their work cut out in the next few weeks. They spend at least a couple hours a day with their sheep. Their market lambs are not quite tame yet and are still hard to catch. They also have to clip their market lambs and bathe them, though Zachary says that it is much easier to clean them than the wool sheep. “You pretty much just scrub and rinse once the wool has been sheared,” he explains.

In June all lambs had to pass the first weigh-in and vet check-in. Unfortunately, one of theirs did not pass, but that is okay with them. The Coder kids just enjoy what they do, no matter the ribbons or money they acquire or do not.

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Madeline Coder is pointing to one of her Wensleydales ewes in this picture. Their wool is the softest I have ever felt on a sheep and super thick. It will keep growing almost to the ground as they age. Photo credit: Kristina Lotz

“Showing is fun, and I like sitting in my stall with my animals and sharing them with people,” says Megan. Madeline seconds her sister’s thoughts but adds that she also loves the Dairy Women milkshakes.

Zachary likes seeing the results of all his hard work, including the difference in various feeding methods. I am definitely seeing “veterinarian” in his future.

The lambs will be weighed-in again at the Clark County Fair and will have to be at least 95 pounds and have gained 25 pounds since the first weigh-in.

You can meet the Coder family and their rare Wensleydale sheep at the Clark County Fair August 4-13. For more information about joining 4-H, visit the Washington State University’s Extension office website.

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