Maisey has been part of the Howard County Fair for her entire life. Now nearing her 18th birthday, the Katahdin sheep will be the oldest of her kind to compete at the fair this week.
Maisey grew up on the Neilson family farm, Justifiable Acres Ranch in Woodbine, raised by Katherine Neilson, now 27, who competed with Maisey in the fair when she was a child.
Katherine no longer competes, but remembers her time at the fair fondly.
“Since I was 8 years old to my junior year of high school, I showed (Maisey) every year and it was a great experience,” she said.
Katherine described her relationship with Maisey as trusting, but she said it did not start out that way.
“When we first got her, I remember we had her in the trailer and I was trying to convince her to eat some food out of my hand and she was not having it,” she said. “I went out there every day for a while and over time I was able to win her over and she’s been a great sheep, always very friendly and turned out to be a really great companion to have.”
Over the years, the two competed in the commercial sheep show and the breeding sheep show at the fair.
For her first fair, Maisey was an early ewe lamb at 7 months old. She competed again as a yearling when she was about 18 months old. Since her third fair, when she was 2 years old, she has competed as an aged ewe.
Tom Mullinix, who has served as the sheep superintendent at the fair for about 40 years, said in his many years overseeing the judges at the sheep competitions, he has never come across a sheep as old as Maisey.
“It was two years ago when (the Neilson family) was showing Maisey and the judge ended up giving (her) a champion ribbon, because he had never seen a sheep that old and look that good and still be able to be in competition at the fair,” he said. “The Neilson family does a great job of managing and taking care of her and it’s like she’s been put out to the green grass to enjoy life, but she still continues to come to the fair each year.”
This year, Katherine’s father, Eric, will be competing with Maisey at the fair.
Prior to Maisey’s first appearance at the fair, there were no Katahdin sheep competing. Within the last three years the numbers have grown to about 80 Katahdin sheep entered, he said.
Katahdin sheep were developed in Maine and named for that state’s highest peak. They are low maintenance animals and do not produce a fleece and therefore do not require shearing.
Eric said it means a lot to him and his family to have been able to compete with Maisey for so long.
“It’s been incredible because we’ve met and made such good friends through competing in the fair,” he said.