4-H: Memories that Last a Lifetime

My 4-H career began as a cow-obsessed 8 year old when I joined Hoofs n’ Paws 4-H club. I showed a little Jersey heifer my first year from a local dairy. I was ecstatic.

A spring dairy show in May was the very first time I was in the show ring. I don’t remember how I placed but I do remember my excitement was at an all-time high – I couldn’t focus at all so I tried to soak it all in the best I could.

I spent the next 10-plus years crying, smiling, failing and succeeding. I spent hours practicing for a show only to have my heifer Daisy Mae decide she didn’t want to cooperate. Some shows ended in smiles and others almost in tears. There were days I felt like I was on top of the world and others where I got knocked down and stepped on. Somehow in the end I wanted to do it all over again the next show, the next year.

4-H taught me to keep trying and keep learning. The great thing about learning is that you want to keep learning and keep practicing – the old saying “practice makes perfect” is what 4-H is all about. My endless hours in 4-H might not have made me perfect but helped me succeed.

The fact is perfection never comes – not in 4-H or in life, no one is ever perfect. What comes with practicing for perfection is the way we handle the not-quite-making-it and sometimes not-even-coming-close moments in our lives.

Later in my 4-H career I had one of those “so close” moments. I was showing one of my favorite heifers, Fawn (she was Daisy Mae’s first calf). We had practiced together all summer and she was a gem. At the fair she loved watching all the people, enjoyed laying around eating hay all day and even enjoyed watching the firework shows at night – she was the perfect show cow.

On show day things went as expected and I felt really good as we walked into the ring. After a good 30 minutes the judge finally lined the class up with Fawn and I in first place. Then he asked the top three places to switch around to see how we handled our animals and if we could properly switch places. At this point I was just wondering how long I could hold on without something going wrong...I’d been thinking this for the past 15 minutes. All three did perfectly until I moved Fawn from first place into second place. I felt her tense up and want to back up (she hadn’t lined up with cows on either side of her before and she wasn’t so sure about it) as we lined up. I could only hold nearly 1,000 pounds from backing up for a couple seconds before she pulled me with her as she backed up to get out of line – there went Grand Champion Senior Showman.

It doesn’t always come down to something as small as that, but this time it did. It’s easy to get down about losing by so little, but to me that moment is still a success. She was the best girl I would ever show in my 4-H career and while we just came close and didn’t actually “make it” we did the best we could that day. If we could have done it again the next day we might have won, but you only get one chance. That is what competition is all about, it’s the way you learn to look at success and failure and I am a better person because of learning how to win and lose.

4-H is not only where I learned how to raise a healthy calf and how to show her, but also how to be a responsible human, how to be a leader and how to give back to the community. I am proud I was a part of an organization that began over 100 years ago, starting with the hopes of helping rural youth become more connected with new agriculture practices.

Today 4-H has blossomed into one of the most successful youth development programs in the United States with members tackling issues ranging from food safety to climate change and environmental sustainability. 4-H is training youth in engineering, math, science and technology which range from animal science to robotics to computer science.

4-H is far more than learning how to show a cow. Since its beginning, the purpose of 4-H has slowly shifted through the years to a more universal focus of developing personal growth and life skills to support and nurture the world’s next generation of leaders. It expanded beyond animal projects limited to those in rural communities, but the heart of 4-H remained the same. I think showing animals has a unique way of merging education in agriculture with life skills that is incomparable– these skills are even more important today than ever.

Today most kids don’t milk cows or do chores before going to school, let alone even know where their milk comes from or how it is produced. I believe 4-H is one way to bridge this growing gap.

I encourage everyone to enjoy the fairs this summer and learn about dairy right from the source. Talk to farmers – they love telling their story and are proud to produce fresh local dairy products.  

I’d like to wish all the kids showing dairy cows across the state good luck this year. Remember you win some and you lose some, but the memories will last you a lifetime. You’ll be thankful to be a part of agriculture, no matter how big or small your part is, it is a piece of farming’s story and your story! Go out there and give it your best.

Until next time,

Aleah