Image: Daniel Kramer

During a year that’s proven anything but ordinary, Josiah Haughton sought normalcy where he could find it. Face-to-face classes in lieu of virtual, lots of bike rides and family time all filled the 12-year-old’s days. So did another proven pastime: rearing animals.

A regular in the livestock world—despite the bevy of competitors each year, the show world is one where everyone knows each other—for five years now, Josiah raises lambs at his grandmother’s home. In recent months he’s kept busy readying two of them for the 2021 Houston Livestock Show.

Certain aspects of animal care hold steady, he said, no matter what the accompanying year holds. Trips to the feed store, help unloading hay, and weekends spent feeding and walking his charges continued as usual. Of course, the Willow Wood Junior High seventh grader said Covid altered other aspects completely.

“Shows have been canceled, and we rely on shows for practice,” he says, quietly. "It's been different."

Josiah’s mom, Cassi Haughton, notes that the changes—and their associated stresses—came long before then. “At the beginning of the season you’re buying animals and don’t know if there’ll even be a show to show at,” she explains. “He did go to the state fair this year, but it was a completely different feel. Really, everything’s felt kind of different.”

Livestock projects are something of a tradition for the family, as Cassi Haughton herself began showing animals at age 9. Josiah’s mother was raised bringing up lambs, rabbits, deer, chickens, and all sorts of other animals, too. In fact, she belonged to Blue Ribbon 4-H, the same group her son’s a member of today. “It’s good fun getting to see him learn a lot of the same stuff we did,” she says. “We won’t push him to be part of it—we want him to enjoy it—but it’s really been fun to watch.”

Image: Daniel Kramer

As any good kid is prone to do, Josiah puts his own spin on raising his animals. He’s gone through the season without naming the lambs, something he hopes to remedy in coming weeks. As far as exercise goes, in addition to treadmill time for developing the lambs’ muscles and burning calories, the avid athlete gets in on the action, too.

“They do sprints,” Cassi says with a laugh. “Josiah likes to outrun them.”

Away from the barn he’s a football player who’s also built up lung strength playing tuba in the school band. “We needed an elective, and orchestra and art are boring,” he says of his choice. “And I’m definitely not singing.”

Adopted into the family at just eight weeks old, but today the oldest of five, Josiah also spends plenty of time with his siblings these days—siblings they say will likely show animals themselves in the coming years, once the pandemic is finally over. As for now, Josiah is focusing his attention on preparing to compete, and crossing his fingers that this show feels more normal than the last.

In 2020 he was about 10 minutes away from entering the ring when the announcement came that Covid was shutting the stock show down. “It was a very hectic night, but it was a great learning experience,” Cassie says. “This year he’s pushing through and really looking forward to it.”

As for Josiah, he agrees, noting the excitement builds as the show draws near. His advice for other exhibitors? It’s the same standard he is always reminding himself of, he says: “Just work hard and never give up.”

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