Showing sheep teaches lessons in and out of the ring
GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Olivia Scuderi has been working with sheep her entire life. Though she is only 15 years old, she has already competed in several national shows and will be competing in her fourth year of shows at the Maryland State Fair. As one of very few youth competitors in these competitions, Scuderi’s biggest challenges are juggling shows with school activities and having less experience than the adults she competes against, but that has never stopped her from pursuing her goals.
Scuderi has been a 4-H member since she was five years old and joined the Montgomery County Sheep and Swine 4-H Club at age nine. That year, she participated in her first livestock sale at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. Since then, she said she has gained numerous life lessons from working with sheep, most notably in communications and networking.
Much of showing sheep is about being both a student and a teacher.
“The most important thing is building connections, she said. “Teaching people and learning more about what you’re involved in is a big key to how I’ve grown as a person.”
It has also taught her how to tailor a message to her specific audience, as she often answers questions from fairgoers who don’t have as much experience with the industry, which then challenges her to find simpler explanations while still getting the message across.
For the majority of Scuderi’s years showing sheep, she has primarily shown Southdowns, but in 2017, she welcomed her first Hog Island lamb to her flock. The Hog Island breed gets its name from a tiny barrier island off the coast of Virginia where sheep were brought in the 1700s. The sheep of Hog Island evolved in response to the island’s natural selection for hardiness, foraging ability, and reproductive efficiency.
Scuderi participated in the Youth Conservationist Program through the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and was selected to receive the sheep to help conserve this heritage breed. This program partners youth with adult donors who donate the sheep and act as mentors to help get the new flock started.
Scuderi said programs like this are “inspiring because it’s going to make me want to give back when I’m older with my flock.”
At the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Scuderi was also named one of the state’s Lamb and Wool princesses. She said she’s been enjoying this opportunity to promote the industry through attending various events as a youth ambassador, and has noticed a lot of organizations “are putting (youth) in the spotlight because how else are you going to keep the industry going?”
This is something she really focuses on, and has decided to make breeding sheep a priority to ensure the continuity of her flock. All of this experience in the sheep and wool industry has also inspired her to pursue a degree in animal science with North Carolina State as her current top choice for college.
In all of Scuderi’s sheep shows, it can be a challenge to be one of the youngest exhibitors in the ring, but it’s something she takes head on.
“It’s very difficult for me to compete against these adults, but when you win against an adult, it’s definitely a high point.”
As Scuderi prepares for this year’s Maryland State Fair, her largest challenge is her school schedule. Scuderi is a rising junior at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Md., where school will be starting during the fair.
But Scuderi is still looking forward to another year of competing, and striving to achieve champion in her favorite class: showmanship.
“State Fair was what sparked my wanting to do well in showmanship. A judge took the time to explain my potential and what I could do better. I really like showmanship because it shows how well you work with your animal.”
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