If Andrew Riddle were a girl named Mary, and his lamb actually followed him all the way to school, we'd have a near-literal re-enactment of the legendary children's nursery rhyme right here in the Rim country.
But Andrew is Andrew, a seventh-grade boy at Pine Strawberry School, and his lamb, J.D., gets turned away at the school bus each day.
Andrew, who is a typical 12-year-old, is a member of the High Flyin' Hooves 4-H Club in Pine, and 6-month-old J.D., who was named for John Deere, is Andrew's livestock project.
"His grandfather retired from John Deere in Iowa," Andrew's mother, Diane Riddle, said.
Come Sept. 13, J.D. will be auctioned off at the Northern Gila County Livestock Show and Auction, and that's where things get even more interesting.
Most lambs, and hogs and steers for that matter, are auctioned off for meat -- a fate, you might say, that's worse than death. For Andrew and J.D., that was a prospect that loomed ever nearer on the horizon as boy and lamb spent the long summer together.
Andrew freely admits that he broke the No. 1 rule of 4-H -- don't get attached to your animal. He says he's never tasted lamb.
"And," he added emphatically, "I never will."
Although they've only been together six months, Andrew and J.D. have come to know each other very well.
"I had to tame him first," Andrew explained. "He was very wild, and I had to get his trust. Then I started halter training so I could lead him around."
J.D.'s wild side still emerges on occasion.
"When he gets scared, he will undo the latch on his door and run up to the shed where he was born," Andrew said.
J.D. has also developed a personality that sometimes borders on brashness.
"He's mischievous," Andrew's mother said.
"He knows how to get out and he'll, like, trash the place," Andrew added.
"He's also learned this game where he'll push us into a ditch, and then we'll push him back into the ditch, and then he hops out the other side. And he likes to chase the ducks and chickens."
But except for the occasional trip to the shed and shove into a ditch, Andrew and J.D. have become pretty inseparable.
"You have to feed, water and groom and exercise him at least once a day," Andrew said. "Lambs eat grass. They eat chicken food. They eat just about anything."
Exercise usually consists of Andrew and J.D. taking a long walk after school. Sometimes they let Andrew's younger brother, Lance, come along.
It was on one such walk that the brothers and J.D. met Marilyn Hamm, a neighbor whose house they have to pass to get to the school bus stop.
"One morning I was getting my paper like at 7 o'clock at the bottom of my driveway and from a distance I saw two kids and a lady and I thought, ‘What kind of dog is that?'" Hamm recalled.
"A few days later I saw the kids with the lamb going by, so I went down the driveway and said, ‘Hi, guys.'
"They introduced me to J.D., and it was just so cute.
"They're terrific kids, and we kind of became friends."
Some time later when Andrew and J.D. were out for their daily walk, he asked Hamm if she knew anybody who would be interested in buying the lamb.
"He explained how J.D. was going to be auctioned off for meat," Hamm said. "I called a friend in Mesa who has a ranch and said, ‘Carol, would you like to have a lamb?' She said, ‘Yeah.'
"So I'm going to be bidding at that auction, Sept. 13 and I'll buy the lamb and they'll keep him up here until my friend can get up here to transport him back home," Hamm said.
According to 4-H folks, Hamm may have to pay $6 a pound for a lamb that could weigh close to 150 pounds by then. That's $900, but Hamm isn't fazed.
"I'm an animal person, and he's not going to be meat," she emphasized.
That works for Andrew and, we can safely assume, for J.D.
"I sure hope that's what happens," Andrew said.
"Baaaaaaaaaa," J.D. said.
So now, instead of the traditional nursery rhyme, a variation like this might be more fitting:
Andrew Had a Little Lamb
Andrew had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Andrew went,
The lamb was sure to go.
It tried to go to school each day,
Which was against the rules,
But when it came to auction time,
This lamb was sure no fool.
Northern Gila County Livestock Show and Auction
While the full-blown Northern Gila County Fair will not be held this year, Rim country residents are encouraged to come out on Sept. 12 and 13 for the livestock show and auction at the Pine livestock barn. The event is free and Andrew Riddle and the other young people involved have worked long and hard getting their animals ready.
"People just really need to come out if they've never viewed a show class with livestock," said Bobbie Miller, a certified 4-H volunteer instructor who is trying to keep the livestock portion of the fair alive.
"The hogs are just entertaining in themselves. You don't have the halter and the ropes.
"They're shown with canes. They're guided by using the cane and touching the hog in specific areas, which is very difficult when there are 10 other hogs in the arena choosing to do what they want. They are not really socialized."
The public is also welcome and encouraged to participate in the livestock auction. Because 4-H and FFA are nonprofit organizations, purchases are tax deductible.
"We really need to sell all the animals," Miller said.
Northern Gila County Livestock Show and Auction
Pine 4-H/FFA Livestock Barn --Sept. 12-13
Schedule of Events
Friday, Sept. 12
6:30 a.m - 7:15 a.m. Exhibitors Check-in
7:15 a.m. - 7:45 a.m. Weigh-in
10 a.m. Judging of Showmanship and Market Classes
Noon 4-H Goat Showmanship Classes
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. Small Animal Judging
1:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Lunch Break
3 p.m. Horse Showmanship Classes
Saturday, Sept. 13
10:30 a.m. Market Animal Auction
Animals on display until noon.