12/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer
BOYERTOWN, Pa. — It’s 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon at the Vamvakias home just outside Boyertown, Pa.
After a long day of school, the bus drops off Sarah and Jared Vamvakias at their front door. Sounds fairly typical for children living in a mostly suburban area of Berks County. That is until they board a golf cart and ride it down the lane and through the pasture of their 20-acre farmette.
“It’s a nice way to get off the bus,” Sarah, 12, said.
From there, the two are greeted by two of their beloved sheep, Sophia and Katie.
The brother and sister duo have 11 sheep on their small farm. And while the small herd size pales in comparison with those of other, much larger sheep breeders, the siblings have made a name for themselves on the local show circuit and at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
The 2013 Farm Show will be the fourth that Sarah has competed at and the third for Jared.
They got their start four years ago after Sarah decided to join 4-H.
Her first animal was donated to her through the Pennsylvania Corriedale Association’s sheep give away program. Sarah wrote an essay on sheep and why she wanted to raise one, and won the contest.
Jared liked helping his sister fit her animal so much that pretty soon, he wanted his own sheep.
“That’s how I got interested to start,” he said. “I’ve never shown an animal before. I thought it would be kind of fun to start something new.”
The herd has grown, albeit slowly, through some breeding as well as purchases that their parents, George and Beth Vamvakias, have made.
The two have competed in mostly junior level competitions, but at last year’s Farm Show, they also entered the open Corriedale show. Sarah did very well, walking away with nine awards, including best fleece in the open show and champion ewe in the junior breeding show.
While Jared took home only two awards, it was a preview of good things to come.
At this year’s Keystone International Livestock Exposition in early fall, his ewe, Katie, got a first place in the yearling ewe competition and won reserve champion ewe.
“I really don’t have a secret,” he said with a laugh.
Jared said he actually prefers Border Leicester sheep, which are larger than Corriedales, but have a less dense wool and are easier to work with.
For Sarah, fitting a Corriedale isn’t easy. She can spend up to eight hours getting one of her ewes ready to show, and their wool can be hard to keep clean. But she says she likes the challenge.
“I don’t know. It’s something in my hands. I don’t know what it is,” she said of her relative ease in using scissors on a Corriedale.
Seeing their children enjoy showing is something George and Beth Vamvakias say they wished would happen when they moved to Berks County in 1997.
The couple are originally from upstate New York, He from Syracuse and she from Rochester.
While he didn’t grow up on a farm, George Vamvakias did some farm work on dairies, baling hay, milking cows.
When the two got together and married, they bought a 40-acre farmette, where they boarded horses.
They moved to Berks County in 1997 when George Vamvakias got a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Beth Vamvakias is a school nurse.
“We knew we wanted to get them into the same kind of experiences me and my wife had growing up and just also to be able to get acquainted to being out in public,” George Vamvakias said, adding that he marvels at the time and effort his kids put into showing their sheep.
“They really do spend a lot of time getting their sheep ready,” he said.
Beth Vamvakias said showing animals has helped the children grow as individuals, even though they are still young.
“I think it’s fabulous just for their own personal growth,” she said. “It forces them to come out of their own comfort zone. It makes you think on your feet.”
Sarah said the best part of the experience is meeting new people at shows.
“I like the people asking questions about my animals,” she said.
Jared said the experience has taught him that showing animals isn’t just for people who want to get into farming.
“It’s just about having fun,” he said.