4-H Livestock Experience Truly Eye-Opening

A 4-H livestock experience proves to be a bit more involved than first anticipated.

| September/October 2010

If you live in a rural community or a small town, there’s a good chance you or your children have been involved in 4-H. Maybe you’re even one of the 3,500-plus volunteers across the country who helps lead a local 4-H club. If so, thanks for all you do.

Today, more than 6.5 million young folks from farms, towns and cities participate in 4-H, making it the largest non-school youth organization in the nation. The perfect answer to “there’s nothing to do,” 4-H clubs give youngsters a hands-on opportunity to learn about science and engineering, nutrition and community service, public speaking, photography, and even rocketry and GPS mapping.

Of course, I’d never heard of any of those programs back when I was growing up in rural Nebraska. In my day, joining the local 4-H club meant raising and entering a calf, lamb or pig in the county fair. Or, in my wife’s case, her 4-H club taught her about gardening and flower arranging.

My first 4-H project was a docile little Suffolk lamb, followed the next year by a Duroc pig. As I
recall, neither of them won ribbons at the county fair, but I did learn a little about trying to train a pig to behave in the show ring. As I remember it, he didn’t.

My third year as a 4-H member, I moved into the big leagues when my dad decided I was old enough to raise and train a calf. Together, Dad and I drove out to a ranch in eastern Wyoming, where we picked out a stocky little Angus steer for my 4-H project. Turns out, it was the beginning of my undoing.

That black calf was gentle enough. He’d gladly come forward for a carefully measured bucket of grain and stand quietly while I scratched behind his ears. He’d even let me bathe him with a bucket of water and a scrub brush. The problem seemed to arise when I tried to halter-break him.

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