MOUNT GILEAD, Ohio — He’s been showing sheep since he was a boy, and Dick Matlack, 81, sees no reason to give it up.
Matlack keeps about 50 head of sheep that he shows at various Ohio county fairs, and the North American International Livestock Expo (NAILE) in Louisville, Kentucky.
It all started when he was a boy growing up on his family’s Morrow County farm. They had beef cattle and sheep, and when he was old enough to enter 4-H, and later FFA, those were his projects.
Thrill of winning
He won champion and reserve champion various times at the Morrow County Fair in his youth. The thrill of winning caught on, and when he began showing in the senior classes, he found another incentive: money.
“I found out, as I got older, that I could make a little money at these fairs,” he said.
When his children were young, he got them started with some Suffolks. The breed didn’t quite have what it took to win, and on many occasions, his children stood last in the show.
Rather than get discouraged, he told them, “There’s one thing about this: There’s only one direction we can go — up.”
The next year, he bought some better sheep, and his children finished at the top of the class.
His daughter, Vicky, still helps with the sheep, especially when Dick is out on the road, going to an auction or at a county fair.
“She’s as much a part of this business as I am, because when I’m out on the road, she takes care of everything here at the farm,” he said.
His favorite lamb, the ewe he has now, is named Miss Vicky in her honor. Miss Vicky has won almost every show she’s been entered, except the NAILE.
But even when Dick doesn’t place as well as he’d like, he tries to keep a positive attitude. He said a show all depends on each judge’s opinion, on each given day, and it’s best just to keep quiet and accept the results.
Friend of the industry. In addition to his own sheep, Dick shows for other sheep owners, who rely on him to help bring their farm good exposure and advertising. He also sells sheep at some of the shows.
Dick owns only a four-acre property, but it includes a nice bank barn and some pasture. He buys his own hay and feed, and rents some additional pasture.
Up until about three years ago, he farmed his family’s home farm, of 200 acres, plus some rental ground. That farm sold, following his mother’s death. He also worked for Fishburn Tank, an oil and gas trucking service in nearby Marengo.
Now, he focuses on sheep, showing Dorsets and Merinos at a dozen different fairs throughout the year. His favorite two fairs are Canfield and Lorain County.
At 81, Matlack admits that he often needs an afternoon nap — but he gets up and goes back to work.
At night, he sleeps at the fair, usually on a cot inside his own livestock trailer. He’s always there if something needs done, and it prevents someone tampering with his sheep.
Tom Hines, the Lorain County Fair director and sheep superintendent, said Matlack is usually up by 5-5:30 in the morning, getting things done, and getting in his caffeine.
“I never knew a man could drink so much Mountain Dew in my life,” Hines joked.
Hines has known Matlack for at least 30 years, and said he’s a great asset to the fair — always willing to answer questions from the public.
“He’s been very good with the general public,” Hines said. “He just is so easy to get along with.”
Focused on sheep. When he’s home, Matlack spends most of his time in the barn, feeding, cleaning and trimming their wool. And when he’s at the fair — he’s either in the show ring, or the sheep barn.
He said he enjoys going to the different fairs, and he now has a helper, his girlfriend, Thelma Huntsman. But even though he enjoys what he does, he usually doesn’t have time to wander very far.
“When you’ve got 50 head of sheep, you can find a job every morning,” he said.
He’s amassed quite the collection of trophies and banners over the years, which cover a shelf above his fireplace, and the walls of his bedroom. It’s all part of his winning spirit.
“It’s just like a ballgame,” he said. “You enjoy winning, and you can’t win unless you’ve got good sheep.”