BERRIEN SPRINGS — Jackson Lyden got involved with the Berrien County Youth Fair at a later age than most exhibitors.

But the Niles resident is making up for lost time.

“A lot of other kids here have been showing since they were 6, so it was kind of hard to catch up,” Lyden said. “I’ve been learning and slowly getting there.”

Lyden, 18, was joined by dozens of other exhibitors for the first day of the youth fair Monday in the sheep barn. The sheep barn played host to 79 sheep.

The barn saw differing generations of exhibitors, from first-timers to the exhibitors who only have a few years left to pursue that blue ribbon.

Lyden began showing animals when he was 13. He became interested in the “ag culture” and family aspect of the fair. This year, he’s showcasing sheep and swine.

“I was drawn to the whole stewardship of the land and taking care of stuff for the future by supplying a food source,” he said. “My favorite part is having the animals here and being able to talk with all the fair kids. We all hang out and go do stuff together.”

Mattalyn Weinberg, 11, of Niles can still remember the first time she showed an animal at the fair.

She was a 6-year-old exhibitor who was showing in the beef and swine competitions. Mattalyn was able to walk away with a few ribbons of her own.

“I was hooked after that,” she said. “I love the fair.”

This year, she was showing a sheep which she named “Maybelline” after the makeup brand. Mattalyn picked up a first-place blue ribbon in her sheep’s weight bracket.

Emily Tharp has been superintendent for the sheep barn for the past four years. The Niles resident has shown sheep since she was 5.

When she became too old to show, Tharp began to volunteer her time with sheep exhibitors before throwing her hat in for consideration as superintendent.

“I love seeing new people and I love seeing the kids return,” she said. “It’s great to see them grow up and learn things every year.”

Tharp said one of the problems exhibitors came across this year was the heat.

Due to an extremely hot and dry July, she said a lot of the sheep were underweight compared to previous years.

“A lot of the sheep didn’t grow, so everyone is just going for it,” Tharp said. “They don’t eat when it gets too hot. They just want to sit and save their energy. It doesn’t help us when we’re doing it for the market.”

While sheep exhibitors took part in the main competitions Monday, they still have the costume contests for sheep Wednesday and the animal auction Friday.

A lot of the work that goes on behind the scenes range from walking the animals, feeding, watering, shearing, practicing for show and continuous checkups.

“It’s something you have to be committed to,” Tharp said. “It’s similar to raising a child.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski