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Lacey Wilfong gets some words of encouragement from Shone Stagg of Monmouth before showing her lambs in the sheep market show at the Polk County Fair Friday.
August 14, 2012
RICKREALL -- In a noisy barn full of bleating sheep and buzzing wool clippers, Lacey Wilfong waits ever patiently for her lambs' turn in the judging ring at the Polk County Fair.
She's raised two Hampshire-Suffolk cross lambs, Pete and Monster, since they were tiny, spending hours feeding, grooming and training them.
That's no different from any other 4-H or FFA member who brought their animals to the fair -- except 12-year-old Lacey did all that from a wheelchair.
Lacey Wilfong has cerebral palsy, which leaves her wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.
While she understands perfectly, Lacey has to use sign language or other nonverbal signals to communicate.
One, however, needs no translation: the enormous smile that spreads across her face when her lambs are mentioned. It speaks of the dedication she has for the endeavor -- and the fun she has doing it.
"I'm extremely proud of her," said Lacey's mom, Trisha Wilfong. "I think she's come a long way and learned a lot."
Pete and Monster are Lacey's second pair of lambs. Her family lives on a farm outside Monmouth with plenty of animals. But two years ago, Lacey decided she wanted some of her own. She decided to join 4-H and raise lambs because they would be a challenge, while still manageable.
"They are a little easier," Trisha Wilfong said. "She didn't want to do something like a rabbit. She wanted to do a market animal that she could make money off of, and sheep are a little easier to handle than a steer."
Lacey has help from her little sister, Carolyn, and her neighbors in caring for the lambs. But much of the feeding and training is her responsibility.
She taught Monster and Pete to walk beside her wheelchair -- not ahead of it -- so she can handle them.
"She will feed them early in the morning and in the evening she will work with them," Trisha Wilfong said. "It could be just walking them or holding and petting them -- letting them get used to her. The closer it gets to fair, the more she works with them."
Her first pair of sheep were a success at the 2011 county fair.
One placed third overall in the market category and she made money at the annual fair youth livestock market auction.
"She learned the better job you do on the lambs throughout the year, the more money you are going to get at the auction," Trisha Wilfong said. "The kids learn a lot of responsibility."
At fair this year she had help showing her lambs for the market class judge. Her neighbors, Shayne and Shyane White, took them around the ring while Lacey watched from inside the ring. In the showmanship class, Lacey took one of her lambs in the ring herself, with the use of a halter.
Dana Toma, the leader of Lacey's 4-H club, Trendsetters, said she's impressed with Lacey's determination and her family's support.
"She's working to the best of her ability, that is all that is required," Toma said, adding that Lacey's success is a model for other children who may feel they can't participate due to a disability. "I admire her mother for helping break some of those barriers."
Wilfong said her daughter also has grown as a result of raising her own lambs.
"I think it's shown her that she can do a lot of the same things other kids do," Wilfong said.
Shayne said her family was excited to find out that Lacey wanted to raise lambs for the fair. Her family also raises sheep and Lacey bought her lambs from the Whites, who help Lacey care for them. She notes, however, that Lacey has final say every step of the way.
"We are pretty proud of Lacey for doing this," Shayne said.
As Lacey and her family waited for the market show on Thursday, Wilfong said her daughter was confident in Pete and Monster.
"We expect them to do pretty well," she said.
She was right. Both sheep received blue ribbons, with Pete placing second in his market class and Monster taking sixth.
At Saturday's livestock auction, the lambswere purchased for a combined $8 per pound.
"She has enough money to buy her lambs and pay for their feed for next year," Wilfong said, adding that her daughter didn't give a second thought to continuing.
"She really enjoys it."