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Connoquenessing Township girl not sheepish about state title

Rylee Colteryahn, of Connoquenessing Township, was recently named Pennsylvania Lamb and Wool Queen. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

CONNOQUENESSING TWP — Rylee Colteryahn, 16, was recognized with a sparkly tiara and fuzzy sash on Nov. 4, and that’s not baa-a-a-ad.

Rylee traveled to Centre County with her father, Ryan, that day to compete against two other finalists from across the state for the title of 2023-24 Pennsylvania Lamb and Wool Queen.

Thanks to her lifelong history with her family’s bovidae, Rylee was able to edge out the other girls and bring the crown home to Butler County.

“I was pretty excited,” Rylee said. “I’ve been involved in the sheep industry my whole life and to have this milestone to recognize my hard work was super cool.”

Rylee’s sash, which she will wear for the next year while representing Pennsylvania as Lamb and Wool Queen, is the typical satin, but trimmed in fuzzy white wool.

Longtime sheep farmers

Ryan and Katie Colteryahn, Rylee’s parents, are longtime sheep farmers, and sell their lambs for meat.

“I’ve been with sheep from the day I was born,” Rylee said. “We have pictures in the sheep ring with me on my mom’s hip while she is showing.”

Rylee, who has been showing sheep on her own for several years, said no halter is used in a show. The contestant holds the sheep under its chin and leads it into the show ring in a line with other contestants and their sheep.

The group walks once around the ring with their specimens in single file, then lines up side by side.

The judge views each sheep, feeling for muscle and the length of the animal’s body.

“You want them to show off the most muscle,” Rylee said. “That’s the main goal.”

If the show is for wool, the judge will observe the fiber of the sheep’s fleece, Rylee said.

Because her family raises meat sheep, Rylee has the most experience showing in that class, but her grandparents, Connie and Harold Dunn, have Merino wool sheep that Rylee has shown occasionally over the years.

“Then you do another lap so the judge can see how they move and make sure they are sound on their feet, then he’ll place them depending on which one has the best qualities,” Rylee said.

She has become accustomed to the lambs being sold for meat, but admits it still pulls at her heartstrings to see them go.

“The hardest ones are the ones we show,” Rylee said. “I spend all summer with them, but at this point, I’m kind of used to it.”

Her mother, Katie, said the family farm now has about 75 head of sheep, and the entire extended family is involved in raising sheep.

“It brings the family together,” Katie said. “All the cousins exercise their lambs together, and our vacations center around sheep.”

She said many in the extended family take time off work to compete at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

“We all stay in the same hotel, so it’s fun,” Katie said.

Queen competition

Rylee said no sheep were present at the Lamb and Wool Queen competition at the Samuel E. Hayes Jr. Livestock Evaluation Center outside State College, where finals were held.

The girls were interviewed first by the judges, then were required to give a speech before a big luncheon, after which she was crowned as Lamb and Wool Queen.

Rylee worked hard on her public speaking skills before the tough competition.

“My speech was about my experience in the sheep industry and how I want to further represent it,” she said. “Just kind of my goals for the year.”

Katie was not able to attend the competition, as Rylee’s sister, Raislee, 9, had a horse show on the same day.

Katie is thrilled, but not shocked, that Rylee was named the winner of the state crown.

“She has great poise and a welcoming smile, is very outgoing and happy and a good representative of a young person trying to raise sheep and represent the sheep industry,” she said. “I’m super excited and looking forward to the year.”

Plans for the year

The upcoming 12 months will include many activities and significant travel for Rylee in her position as Lamb and Wool Queen.

Rylee will meet state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding at the state farm show in January, which, she said, she is greatly anticipating.

She also will be involved in the opening ceremonies there.

In August, Rylee will attend Ag Progress Days at Pennsylvania State University in State College, which is Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition with more than 400 exhibitors from the United States and Canada competing, according to organizers.

“I will represent the sheep industry there and hopefully learn some new things about sheep,” Rylee said.

She also will travel to fairs across the state to attend their sheep shows.

More locally, Rylee hopes to spread information about raising sheep.

“I hope to visit elementary schools in Butler with my bottle lambs,” she said. “A lot of kids in Butler have never seen a lamb.”

She said the position of Lamb and Wool Queen allows her to think of ways to help others and spread the word on the sheep industry.

Rylee said her fellow 4-H sheep club members have been right behind her as she climbed the ladder toward state Lamb and Wool Queen.

“My friends in 4-H have been very supportive of it so far,” she said. “When it was first announced, they were really excited.”

Regarding her future plans, Rylee plans to be a physician’s assistant or a teacher of some kind.

She hopes to attend Penn State, which is the alma mater of several extended family members.

For now, Rylee looks forward to shopping for wool outfits to wear to the events where she will reign.

“I’m very excited,” she said.

Rylee Colteryahn, of Connoquenessing Township, was recently named Pennsylvania Lamb and Wool Queen. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle
Rylee Colteryahn, of Connoquenessing Township, was recently named Pennsylvania Lamb and Wool Queen. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle
Rylee Colteryahn, of Connoquenessing Township, was recently named Pennsylvania Lamb and Wool Queen. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

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