ALPENA - Although she's only 17 years old, Caitlin Borke knows a thing or two about life. Her parents own a hobby farm north of Hubbard Lake and she has been around animals all her life.
So when the Alpena County Fair rolled around, Borke was ready to put on a Miracle of Life display in the sheep barn. There, visitors could watch chicks hatching out of eggs. They could check out baby kittens. And if they were lucky, they might see one of three Painted Desert Hair sheep give birth to newborn lambs.
"Just as sad as death is, birth is on the opposite side. It's happiness," Borke said.
It's also a critical part of agriculture, she said, holding up a newly hatched chick that was also part of her display.
"Twenty-one days ago this chick was just an egg - something we eat," Borke said.
But by being incubated and hatched, the teetering chick on Thursday had new potential. It might grow up to become a show bird at another fair, Borke said. It might be fattened up and harvested as meat, or become an egg layer, if female.
Four years ago, Borke was inspired by a large birthing display at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit. Even cows were shown giving birth to calves, she said.
Then while running for 2012 Miss Sunrise Side Teen in November, Borke created a platform based on teaching people one-on-one about agriculture. Not only did she win the pageant, but she also sold fair organizers on her own display and received permission to go ahead.
Borke's project was not without risk. There was drama when the first ewe went into labor around 7:15 p.m., Monday. Borke was at band practice, leaving friend Allie Dean ready to take care of the animal.
"One black foot popped out," said Dean, a 44-year-old mother of four and an experienced livestock handler.
More than 50 people were pressed around the cage watching, and Dean, warned by her son, knew immediately that she had a problem.
"You want two feet and a nose to pop out," she said.
In the pen with the ewe, she reached in and attempted to turn the baby around, working with the mother's contractions.
"All the women in the audience were in sympathy," she said.
But the newborn was still stuck and she could hear some audience members beginning to groan.
Dean knew she would now have to work fast.
"You can't be gentle, because you are under a time constraint," she said. "When you have a crowd, you don't want to have a dead baby."
But a second attempt worked, and as she pulled carefully, the baby slithered out to be greeted with smiles. Jet black, it has been named Flower.
The second ewe was excepted to go into labor Thursday night, and the white lamb is expecting twins Saturday, Dean said.
"They walk like their hips are out of whack and they start getting very friendly," Dean said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.
4-H Fair Results for Wednesday
4-H Goat Showmanship
Senior Grand Champion - Brandon Borke
Senior Reserve Champion - McKenzie Wright
Junior Grand Champion - Demi Oliver
Junior Reserve Champion - Stephanie Domke
Novice Grand Champion - Ethan Leatzow
Novice Reserve Champion - Elizabeth Belanger
Grand Champion - Bree Oliver
Reserve Champion - Demi Oliver
Third Place - Taime LaFave
4-H Horse Showmanship
Senior Grand Champion - Ayla Manley
Junior Grand Champion - Dakota Gersewski
Novice Grand Champion - Casey Stevens
Showman of Showman - Dakota Gersewski
Thursday 4-H Results
Top O' Michigan Small Animal Sweepstakes
Sr. Winner - Brandon Borke
Jr. Winner - Stephanie Domke
Norman Alexander Memorial Large Animal Sweepstakes
Sr. Winner - McKenzie Wright
Jr. Winner - Carly Leatzow