Tyrell, Tiffany and Tia Clock don't know what they're going to do with all their free time after the Delta County Fair ends. The 4-H members have entered hundreds of projects over the years, including 64 pigs, roughly 300 turkeys, a few lambs, and more chickens than they care to remember. They also entered baked goods, handicraft and clothing projects.
Because they are 18, this is the last fair for the 2015 Hotchkiss High School grads. "I can't believe fair is here," said Tiffany, a reality that hit them recently while out walking their pigs.
Tia, Tiff and Ty are the triplet children of Kirby and Lynette Clock of Paonia and grew up on a small farm on Lamborn Mesa. They credit (and sometimes blame) their parents for getting them involved in 4-H. Lynette wasn't given the opportunity because her mother was a teacher and her father a government trapper. "There was no money for a 4-H project, so that's part of the reason she wanted us to do it," said Tiff.
Lynette would only take responsibility for the first year. After that, she said, it was all on them. Leaving the fairgrounds following their first swine competition, they were already discussing next year's projects.
"I know why our parents wanted us to do it, to get involved in something different," said Tia. All three are grateful that they did.
The list of valuable life skills learned along the way is long: organization, planning, record-keeping, how to raise farm animals and process poultry. They also learned the value of hard work and leadership skills learned through holding multiple offices in the Rocky Mountain 4-H club, FFA and Colorado State University Extension's Tri-River Area 4-H council.
"I can't even begin to tell you how helpful for scholarships it was," said Tia. All three were awarded numerous scholarships, including more than $1,000 each in 4-H money. Ty and Tiff also received Future Farmers of America (FFA) scholarships. Tia earned seven scholarships, including the Stanway Principal and Lions Clubs scholarships, Tiff was a candidate for the Boettcher scholarship, and Ty was a finalist for the Daniels scholarship.
It all started with swine projects. They eventually added turkeys and chickens. Because of the power of three, some years they swept the categories. Four years in a row they took champion/reserve in turkeys.
All three eventually branched out into arts and crafts projects, most of which reflect family tradition. Using tools handed down through the generations, Ty made leather crafts, including his hunting rifle scabbard. "It's kind of cool using tools used by my great-grandfather," said Ty. Kirby is district manager for Delta County Ambulance, and Ty has made time to earn his EMT and volunteer with North Fork Ambulance and the Paonia Volunteer Fire Department.
Nine years ago, Tia, a black belt in karate, took up cake decorating, which led her to pursue an education in the culinary arts. They laugh at recalling her practice cakes made of sickly-sweet fondant, frosting and styrofoam, but practice has led to several grand champion cakes. This year she is entering minion-themed cupcakes.
All laughing aside, "Getting that grand champion cake, out of all the other kids, is pretty great," said Tiff.
She also has created wedding reception cakes for family members, and on the 100th birthday of her great-grandmother, North Fork Valley native Laura Clock, she made the cake.
Tiff entered clothing projects for six years. Using Lynette's scrap-booking tools she made an album based on her freshman year of sports at HHS. The last two years she added to the project, and her final scrapbook project will document her history with FFA.
After the fair they will still have to complete and hand in their record books, a task Ty calls the hardest part of 4-H.
"The record books aren't that bad," said Tiff. "It's the procrastination that goes along with those record books that makes it hard."
It hasn't been easy, especially in the early years when they didn't know how things worked. "Most of the time," said Tiff, "whatever could go wrong, went wrong for us."
The first year, their pigs didn't make weight and were ineligible for sale, and they had to haul them home. Tia's first lamb cost $100 and immediately escaped the horse trailer and scared all the horses. They almost killed it, said Tia.
Their first turkeys ran free, "like free-range turkeys," said Tia. One day Lynette was talking to a friend in town when the friend spotted the turkeys out for a walk. By fair time, "There were four turkeys, with hardly any meat on them." said Tia. They were "in shape" and judges passed them over for the fatter turkeys.
Tiff decided early on that, to save money, she would breed their fair pigs, an endeavor she continues to this day. She learned the hard way to farrow the pigs so they don't step on their newborns.
One year their turkeys poults almost fried under the heat lamp, another year their sow had a litter of a dozen and nine piglets died of hypothermia. Yet another year their boar froze to death.
Last year, a fox killed all 30 turkeys before the fair. "That's why there were two turkeys at the fair last year, because the Clocks' all got killed," said Tiff.
Last February the barn they built early in their 4-H careers burned down along with Tiff's pig operation. Several 4-H pigs died. The mother lived, but was severely burned. "That was hard," said Tiff, pointing to her siblings. "Without these guys I don't know what I would have done." They will show the survivors, if they make weight.
But the joys have outweighed the troubles, and all three are proud of their accomplishments and that as they grew older and wiser, they were able to help younger 4-H members with their projects. "Knowing that people can come and talk to you and you help them to the best of your knowledge, that's pretty great," said Ty.
They also did it all by the book and have no regrets. "Who cares if you don't win if you go about it the right way," said Tiff. "That's better than stepping on people's toes and doing it the wrong way."
Entering their last fair is bittersweet, they said. Ty and Tiff said they will consider getting involved with the fair, if they return to the area after college. Tia, who will attend CMU in Grand Junction, wants to enter projects in open classes, and plans to teach cake-decorating skills at Heritage Hall. "I just want to share what I know," she said.