1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Kramer Southwestern Pa. Correspondent
WEST ALEXANDER, Pa. — As it has been for decades now, the McConn family will be well-represented at this year’s Pennsylvania Farm Show. And the current generation of the family is actually a result of the show itself.
“We met at the farm show,” said Peggy McConn, a former state Lamb and Wool Queen. “I’m from Butler County and he grew up here in Washington County and that’s where we met.”
Finding a wife — especially one that will put up with a farming habit — is much better than any blue ribbon Jeff McConn could garner at the show, which he first attended in 1966. “At least that’s what I was told,” he said. “My dad had Jerseys and I started showing 4-H (projects) in the 1970s.”
And it will be three of Jeff and Peggy’s progeny and a small herd of livestock that make their way east on the turnpike to spend a lot of time in the show rings on the northwest side of Harrisburg this week. The McConn trailer will be hauling three lambs, three hogs and a goat to the show this year and the family is looking forward to five busy days and not a lot of sleep.
Sitting around the dining room table and talking with Bridget, 18, Caitlyn, 16, and Jeffrey, 14, can be a lot like sitting around the show barn at any fair. When the talk starts there is a lot of one-upmanship and the three have shown at fairs, farm shows and livestock expositions all over the northeast and Midwest. Like sisters will, the two girls verbally spar. But instead of sparring over the clothes and hair and boyfriends that you usually hear about from girls their age, it’s about “your gilt” and “that time I beat you” and the merits of “my purebred” over “your mix” while Jeffrey grins in silent amusement at the rivalry, clearly above it all.
All three have taken numerous ribbons and honors at shows and fairs and are well-spoken and knowledgeable about what they do with their animals. And when they slip on their boots and walk across the way to the barn you can see it isn’t their first day there. And “already did” is the most common answer when their dad asks if some task has been addressed.
“They’re out handling about every day for a month and half before the show,” Jeff McConn said. “Every Sunday is weigh day and we get all the animals on the scale to see where they’re at.”
This corner of Pennsylvania is about as far from the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex as you can get without leaving the state. There aren’t a lot of rolling hills in this part of Washington County and if you do have some acreage, half of it is straight up and the other half straight down. The barn and beautiful home Jeff and Peggy McConn built for their family is perched on the straight-up side facing east and is surrounded by the kind of wooded hillsides that made the area wool-heavy back in the day when farming was the primary livelihood.
On a crisp, sunny Sunday morning, the McConn children walked their show hogs around the inside of the barn and Jeffrey manhandled his sheep up a slippery slope to show it off. Bridget leads a soft, incredibly furry white goat with a pink-and-zebra-striped collar around its neck, and Caitlyn cuddles a little red piglet on her shoulders. You can tell these three are quite comfortable with their animals.
“During lambing I used to take them out in the (baby) carrier and set them in the corn crib,” said Peggy, noting that Caitlyn “went” to her first farm show a few weeks before she was born. “I was pretty crabby that year,” she said, making the whole family laugh.
Bridget, a senior at McGuffey High School, has set the standard for her siblings, earning the honor of FFA West Regional Star Farmer in agriculture production. During this year’s farm show she will also interview for further honors at the midwinter FFA conference, the timing of which will require her to hand off her lead and put on a dress and then back again.
She has already been accepted to Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., and is awaiting word from Virginia Tech. She plans to study dairy science with an ultimate goal of becoming a large animal vet. She also works evenings and weekends at Folly Hollow Dairy Farm in neighboring South Strabane Township.
Caitlyn and Bridget are officers in the McGuffey High School chapter of the FFA and all three McConn children are active in their school beyond their farming pursuits, playing soccer and serving as sports statisticians. Jeffrey also plays football and wrestles at the school.
And Jeff and Peggy spend a lot of time on the road with the livestock trailer.
“It gives them something to do,” said Jeff, reciting the mantra of parents everywhere with busy children. “And hopefully keeps them out of trouble.”
There won’t be much time to get into trouble during Pennsylvania Farm Show week, with seven animals to show, FFA interviews and the brushing, trimming, combing and feeding in-between.
“It’s all about having fun with the animals,” said Jeffrey, “and meeting other people.”