LUVERNE — Christian Kruse may live in Nobles County, but he’s all about the Rock County Fair.
Kruse, who resides in Ellsworth, was at Luverne’s fairgrounds Thursday morning getting ready for that afternoon’s sheep show. He has now taken part in the fair for nine straight years, and has been a long-time member of the Magnolia Juniors 4-H club.
An incoming senior at Ellsworth High School, Kruse showed dairy cattle and goats during his first two years at the fair. His neighbor then encouraged him to show sheep, and that interest stuck and has continued to grow.
Kruse remembers well how he got started with 4-H and showing animals.
“My mom (Anita) was a single mom and she had three boys, and she got married to Eric Kruse and moved out to the farm,” he recalled. “Soon, my classmates were telling me, ‘Since you moved out to the farm, you need to join 4-H and show livestock.’”
Since there were goats on the farm, that’s what Kruse showed as a third-grader his first year. His mom showed dairy cattle when she was in 4-H, so he decided to also give that a try, and he also showed chickens.
He enjoyed that first fair, he recalled, and then went on to participate in the same animal shows the next year. In his third year, he decided to show sheep — his mom had also shown those, too, as a youth.
“My neighbor called and asked me if I want to take a bottle lamb,” Kruse said. “He then asked me if I wanted to show his lambs; he was just getting into club lambs.”
That was the start of what would become a regular way of life. Every day in the summer, Kruse said, he goes over to his neighbor’s farm at about 6 p.m. and is normally there until about 9:30 or 10 p.m. getting fair lambs ready. In the winter, he spends weekends there to assist with lambing, and he takes turns getting up at night to help check ewes.
Kruse’s first couple years showing sheep were admittedly more of a learning experience, but his fortunes did turn in his third year and he earned a Minnesota State Fair trip.
“I just got a good lamb and also went to a lot of camps on how to feed them, how to take care of them and how to exercise them,” he explained.
That first state fair was a challenge — “I learned the competition up there was huge” — but his second trip the following year saw significant improvement. He placed at the top of his class (intermediate age group) and was fifth overall showman. The following year, he had the 10th overall market lamb and qualified for auction.
“That was a pretty big deal,” Kruse admitted. “I wanted to make the purple ribbon auction and make some money to put toward a ram.”
In 2018, Kruse again was a winner at the Rock County Fair but “didn’t do too hot” at the state fair, as he “got into one of the toughest classes up there.” No matter how he fared during Thursday afternoon’s 4-H sheep show, he’ll be headed to the state fair with his sheep once again because of his brand-new FFA affiliation.
“I actually was able to get an FFA program started at Ellsworth, and this will be the first year,” he said. “I don’t really do too much for sports in school because this really takes up a lot of my time … I’m excited that we’re going to have this new program.”
Kruse enjoys both showing sheep and having the opportunity to travel to different locales for events. He recalled attending an open show in Grand Island, Neb., a show and sale in Sedalia, Mo., and a club lamb sale in Des Moines, Iowa as memorable excursions. And, he doesn’t plan to stop his work with sheep anytime soon.
“It’s something I plan on sticking with my whole life,” Kruse said. “The guy I show for, Chris Tiesler, he has C & J Club Lambs, and he’s got two kids that will be just starting when I’m done (with open shows). I’d like to stick with them and help them with it.”
After he graduates next spring from Ellsworth High School, Kruse plans to head to Alexandria Technical & Community College and study law enforcement. His career goal is to be a Department of Natural Resources officer.
He’s thankful for the experience 4-H has given him as he moves closer to the next steps in his educational and professional life.
“It’s taught me a lot of responsibility and it teaches you that hard work pays off,” Kruse said. “All summer, you put all that time and effort to working those lambs and when you do well, you feel good.
“I’ve also made a lot of friends in 4-H — I’ve got friends from the top of Minnesota to the bottom of Minnesota. You really get to meet a lot of people.”