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Jennings inducted into Livestock Hall of Fame

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Camden County sheep farmer Clarence Jennings (right) receives a lapel pin from N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler as part of Jennings' induction into the N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Raleigh, Oct. 14.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Monday, October 22, 2018

CAMDEN — Although Clarence Jennings enjoys raising sheep, he sees the business of sheep-raising as a means to an end.

Jennings, 66, says the real value of what he does as a Camden livestock producer comes from seeing its impact on his chief customers: the children whose families buy his sheep so they can compete in livestock competitions like the annual Albemarle Area 4-H Livestock Show and Sale.

"The sheep are just a tool that is used in the development of children," Jennings said. "It gives them responsibility. It gives them a focus of something to work on."

Jennings’ dedication to young people recently was recognized by his induction into the N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame. Jennings, whose enshrinement in the Livestock Hall of Fame — he was inducted in the sheep and goats category — took place in Raleigh on Oct. 14, said the honor wasn’t “something I was expecting.”

Jennings’ induction also was partly due to his long involvement in the sheep show at the N.C. State Fair. Jennings was hired as superintendent of the Junior Ewe Lamb Show in the mid-1990s, and according to state agriculture officials, built a reputation of bringing in top show judges.

Jennings also attracted top sheep exhibitors from across North Carolina and beyond and spent countless hours organizing and managing the fair’s annual sheep show, the agriculture officials said. He only stepped aside from his role as superintendent because his grandchildren were going to be participating in the show.

Although he’s now retired from the superintendent’s role, Jennings still attends the State Fair’s sheep shows, supporting exhibitors, young people and their families, state agriculture officials said.

Jennings, who grew up in Camden, actually got into the sheep business late in life.

His family farmed until his father quit the business in the late 1970s. Jennings worked for George Wood Farms, and Jennings credits the farming operation’s late owner, George Wood, with his decision to attend N.C. State University. Jennings enrolled in NCSU's Agricultural Institute, earning degrees in livestock management and crop science.

Jennings returned home to work for George Wood Farms’ hog farming operation before working for what was a cattle farming operation in Camden owned by Weyerhaeuser.

After Weyerhaeuser pulled out of agribusiness in Camden in the late 1970s, Jennings decided to try something different to earn a living. He worked for a time as a cable maintenance technician for what was then Norfolk and Carolina Telephone in Elizabeth City. Norfolk and Carolina today is a part of CenturyLink.

Jennings recalls that his wife, Carolyn, was teaching at Camden High School at the time, and she had a student who was showing sheep at the Albemarle Area 4-H Livestock Show and Sale in Elizabeth City. The student was talking in class about what he was doing — about how much he was learning from raising sheep.

Introduced to the Jennings’ then-5-year-old son Brent, the student got him interested in sheep, too, Jennings said. The next thing you know, Brent Jennings decided to show sheep at the Albemarle 4-H Livestock show and had a grand time doing so.

"From that day forth, I got involved the next year with the show and then it just grew from there," Jennings said, describing how he got involved in helping kids raise the wooly livestock.

Brent Jennings, now 37, not only is a state 4-H livestock specialist, he and his father work together in the sheep-raising business.

Why sheep?

There are practical animal management reasons compared to other livestock, Jennings said.

"It takes less acreage for sheep," he said. "You don't have the odor issues as you would hogs. They consume less food than cattle — and they're not as aggravating and crazy as goats."

Jennings said a friend of his son’s had land in Johnston County he wasn’t using for his cattle, so Brent Jennings now breeds a flock of sheep there. The Jennings’ livestock operation also breeds sheep on farmland owned by a friend in Virginia.

Jennings said the operation’s female sheep are brought to Camden County, where he feeds and tends to them and allows them to roam approximately 12 acres of pastureland and woodland.

After the females give birth, he leaves the newborns with their mothers for a time before they’re weaned and sold. The mothers are then returned to the family’s livestock operations in Johnston County or Virginia. Sheep considered unfit for breeding or showing are sold to pork giant Smithfield Foods.

Asked what makes a good shepherd, Jennings had a one-word answer: "Patience."

"It's kind of like dealing with four-legged children sometimes when they're young," he quipped.

Jennings said he’s gained a lot of pleasure watching young people from across North Carolina grow up raising animals and go on to become assets to society.

"It has just brought great joy to me to watch their development," he said. "And that's what I get out of it."

"I ain't gettin' rich in this deal, I can tell you that," he added with a laugh.

The Oct. 14 induction was the 39th N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame ceremony. In addition to Jennings, Ross Batten Jr., of Selma, and Robert Hardin III, of Statesville, were enshrined.

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