“Urban Farm was my life since I was 5. Without that, I don’t know what I’d be doing now,” says Monica Marrs, a 19-year-old student at Oklahoma State University majoring in animal science production. “Urban Farm helped me find my passion.”
Monica’s passion was infectious. Her mom Amy, a Mayfair resident, is a volunteer board member at The Urban Farm, as well as heading up the sheep and goat program. Amy helps children to raise and breed Boer goats, Nigerian dwarf goats and Lincoln sheep. “Boer goats are raised for meat,” says Amy. “The smaller Nigerian dwarf goats are friendly and good for kids who are getting started with animals. The Lincoln sheep produce long wool for fiber.”
Amy first brought 5-year-old Monica to the farm to ride horses and soon they were helping with the sheep and goat program by walking the animals and cleaning their stalls. “I knew nothing about animals,” Amy says. “I had to ask questions about everything so I could support Monica because that’s what she wanted. I learned alongside her.”
Monica had an affinity for animals since she was very young, Amy says. “When she was in preschool, she loved plastic animals and she wanted the mom, dad and baby of all of them. Her play was quite realistic: she’d lay the giraffe under the lion, knowing lions eat them. She was fine with nature, with the circle of life.”
While helping to shear sheep at a local farm, 6-year-old Monica asked the farmer if she could buy a black one. “That was a bit of a surprise,” said Amy.
Monica has raised cattle, horses, sheep and goats. She began showing animals at stock shows at age 9. “I love it. It brings out my competitive side and it’s really fun,” she said.
She’s not sure what she’ll do with her degree in animal science production. “My passions are feeding the world and showing livestock,” Monica says. “I’ll likely manage a large-scale farm and I also want to bring more kids into showing.”
Last month Monica came home from college to work alongside her mom to help Urban Farm kids show their sheep at the National Western Stock Show. The kids showed 12 Lincoln sheep: three rams and nine ewes.
“With the Lincoln sheep, the judges base 60 percent of the score on the quality of their wool and 40 percent on their confirmation—how the animal is built,” said Amy. “They look for good movement and straight legs that don’t wobble or turn in. Females are judged for breeding. If they are too narrow, it’s not good because they can’t have babies.”
“The kids walk their sheep around the ring without a halter; they lead them just with a hand under the chin,” said Monica. “So the sheep need to be calm. It helps that the kids feed and water them, and bond with them.”
Monica said the kids make sure their sheep stands correctly by placing its feet. “You want the front two feet even and the back two feet even, and all their feet directly under them—not leaning or stretched.”
A technique called “bracing” flexes the animal’s muscles as the judge examines it. “You do that by pushing the animal to walk backwards,” Monica said. “They don’t like to do that, so they push back against you and their muscles flex. It’s a show thing, like body builders do.”
Monica said raising animals and showing them at competitions builds kids’ character. “It shows you how to win and how to lose. Because not everyone gets a ribbon, you learn to take it with pride and you learn to try harder.”
Eleven Urban Farm animals were killed in January 2017 when several dogs jumped the fence. “We’ve replaced all the animals and now we have an eight-foot enclosure with a central aisle,” said Amy. “Our facility is substantially better. There was enough money to put a Tuff Shed in every pen to replace the metal huts. They are a nice size and are better homes for the animals. Plus, it looks a bazillion times better.”
Plans for upgrading the National Western Stock Show facilities include a partnership with Colorado State University. CSU plans a year-round agricultural research program that could open up new study and career opportunities for Urban Farm kids. “I hope for a partnership with them because we have an outdoor lab. It will be interesting to see how this pans out,” said Amy.