Two teens, 4-H, 25 sheep
Alyssa Weld, 18, washes Elsie while her sister Megan Weld, 15, trims Ariel at their Warwick home.
Megan Weld of Warwick grooms her sheep Ariel.
Warwick sisters Megan Weld, 15, and Alyssa Weld, 18, groom their sheep on Wednesday.
WARWICK — Two local teens will herd their sheep across the county for the annual Heath Fair this weekend.
Alyssa and Megan Weld have raised scores of lambs since their family got into 4-H 11 years ago. Now, their flock numbers about 25, and on Sunday, they’ll take their finest 15 to the fairgrounds. Their 10 pregnant brood ewes will be staying home.
“I’ll be showing eight sheep,” said Megan Weld, 15. Her sister Alyssa, 18, will show seven.
Though many youngsters at the Heath Fair will spend their time on the midway’s rides, eating cotton candy, or trying to win oversized stuffed animals, the Welds will be working. They do get an hour or two of downtime, but said they spend it checking out the other animals and 4-H projects.
Though it’s about an hour from their home, the Heath Fair is one of the closer places the Welds show their sheep.
“We’ve done shows in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa,” said Megan Weld.
It was a 14-hour ride to the Fourth of July show in Michigan. Driving through the night, they only stopped for gas, quick meals and bathroom breaks.
Most of their shows are a bit closer.
The Welds are part of the Pioneer Valley Young Shepherds 4-H club. Based in Cummington, the club’s 30-odd members come from all four western Massachusetts counties.
Alyssa Weld joined the club in 2002, when she was 6. This fall she’ll head to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to major in animal science with a pre-veterinary medicine concentration.
Megan Weld will be a sophomore at Pioneer Valley Regional School in the fall, and isn’t sure what she wants to do after she graduates.
Though the Pioneer district is made up of four farm towns, few of its students are involved in 4-H.
“There might be five of us,” Megan said. “When you ask people in New England if they’re in 4-H, they say ‘what’s that?’ Out west, people don’t ask if you’re in 4-H, they ask how many 4-H projects you have.”
The sisters said they’ve enjoyed meeting fellow 4-H-ers at far-away shows, and keep in touch with many of them online.
Though the sisters agree that 4-H is a lot of fun, it’s also serious business. The two take care of their animals from birth to market.
“I’ve been in charge of lambing the ewes since I was 12,” said Alyssa. Sometimes, delivering a lamb can be problematic, if they come out feet first, or other complications arise. Sometimes, she’ll have to call the veterinarian, and have him coach her through a tough birth.
Births were more problematic early on in their 4-H endeavor, Alyssa said. Over the years, they’ve used selective breeding to make sure their ewes deliver their young with less trouble.
Megan will take over the lambing duties when Alyssa goes off to college. Still, they’re trying to time things so the ewes will go into labor in January, while Alyssa’s home on winter break to lend a hand.
Caring for their flock teaches them more than the facts of life. The sisters are learning about agri-business as well.
The pair pay for all the care and feeding of their flock, and, when a sheep or lamb sells, they get to keep the cash. Many of those animals, they know, are destined to become mutton or lamb chops, though a lucky few wind up as backyard pets.
While they’re with the Welds, the sheep and lambs are in kind, loving hands. It shows; the animals are quite fond of people. All but a few shy ones rush over for a pat when visitors approach their pens.
“You can tell when animals are raised by 4-H kids,” said Alyssa. “At fairs, they’ll come right up to the fence, looking for attention.”
“Most adult farmers don’t hang out with their sheep,” she explained. For 4-H kids, however, they’re more like furry friends.
That can make it tough when it’s time to take them to market.
“You do get attached to them,” said Megan. “It was a lot harder in the beginning, but there’s a significant amount of money in taking them to market. That eases the hurt.”
As Alyssa and Megan have grown from first-time 4-H-ers into veterans, they’ve gone on to teach the younger kids in the club to show sheep.
“I love seeing the little kids smile when they’re showing sheep that we’ve readied together,” Megan said.
Getting all those sheep ready for show involves hours of bathing and shearing the animals. The Welds have spent much of the week doing just that, in hopes that their hard work will pay off in ribbons at the show.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279