Robert Rynarzewski grabbed a lamb from the group of five with their matching black faces, floppy ears and short, gray coats. He had her stand in the small barn at his home near Woodbine, and with a little coaxing she leaned forward and flexed her muscles, like a bodybuilder showing off the results of years of pumping iron.
Showing some muscle is important for animals being judged on their suitability for market, and this lamb's physique won her the title of grand champion in the Maryland State Fair's 4-H/FFA competition.
It was another in a string of state and county fair wins for Robert, 17. His two older sisters also have shown numerous champion lambs and swine. Although they are first-generation farmers, the family room of the Rynarzewskis' home is covered wall to wall with 27 green-and-white (and in a few cases purple-and-gold) banners for first- and second-place finishes.
Showing animals brings other rewards. "It helps you grow and have responsibilities," Robert said. "It shows people that they have special talents and that hard work pays off."
Robert's parents, Karen, a dental hygienist, and Robert (known as Bob), a certified public accountant, grew up near Baltimore. After they were married, they lived in Catonsville for a while, then moved to Howard County because they wanted more space.
They had no plans to raise livestock.
But the Rynarzewskis' daughters participated in 4-H with craft projects and were inspired by friends who showed animals to try the same.
"I thought, why not, we'll try anything," said Karen Rynarzewski.
The family started in 1990 with two lambs and two pigs at their Colonial-style house on nearly 2 acres. They live on a cul-de-sac with several other homes in an area of farmland dotted with development.
"I grabbed my wallet and started doling out money," said Bob Rynarzewski. The family had a barn built, put up fencing, and bought equipment and feed. In time, they had another barn built. The sale of the animals plus the fair premium started to offset some of the costs.
At the family's peak, they had 18 lambs and 18 pigs. They started breeding their animals to produce future generations of fair champions - a process that takes place at a facility in Pennsylvania.
"We didn't go on vacation, we went to the fairs," said Bob Rynarzewski.
The animals required a big investment of time and effort as well.
"Usually around 6 in the morning, I get up and go down to the barn," said Robert. "I'll start by checking on everybody and making sure they are all right." Then he lets the animals out to exercise for a while. During the day, he makes sure they are comfortable and have water, and then he repeats the feeding and exercise routine at night.
"You can't really sleep in a whole lot," Robert said.