TERRE HAUTE —
Trailers full of livestock parked in the frozen lots of barns as local 4-H’ers prepared for show this summer.
Organizers hosted the annual Vigo County 4-H Beef and Dairy tag day at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds Saturday morning, kicking off enrollment and registration for the 2013 fair.
Sarah Gaughan, 4-H Youth Educator with Vigo County’s Purdue Extension Office, said registration will be ongoing, and last year’s participation count of 600 kids should be met again.
“I’d say 40 or 50 by the end of the day,” she said, estimating Saturday’s count for beef and dairy cattle.
In addition to signing themselves up, 4-H’ers fixed their cattle with yellow, button-style radio frequency identification tags featuring a 15-digit number in accordance with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. The 840RFID tags help the state pinpoint problems in case of disease outbreaks, Gaughan said. Animals to be shown in the fair were also weighed Saturday so officials can determine the rate of gain made between now and the fair, she added.
A former 10-year member of the Johnson County 4-H program, Gaughan graduated from Purdue University with an undergraduate degree in agricultural economics in 2010, working with the Sullivan County program before coming to Vigo County last June. She earned her graduate degree from Western Kentucky University.
Meanwhile, area 4-H clubs hosted a rabbit show inside the exhibit building, and the fairgrounds’ complex was full of 4-wheel drive vehicles attached to stock trailers. The smell of mulch and manure soaked 18-degree air inside the corral as beef superintendent Chris Bonar moved animals through the gated shoots.
In his third year as superintendent over beef projects, Bonar said both his children show cattle in 4-H and he described the program as a family affair.
“They were born and raised on the family farm,” he said of his children’s cattle, noting it takes about 18 months to get a beef ready for show, from birth to finish. In the meantime, the family raises hay on the farm and buys feed for the winter months. “It’s a lot of work.”
Dairy superintendent Debby Laswell said her own grandchildren are showing animals now, continuing a family tradition pre-dating her.
“My grandparents milked cows for years,” she said.
But there are only a handful of dairies left in the area, maybe three in Vigo and Clay counties combined, she said. Many of the local 4-H kids lease animals to raise as they themselves don’t live on farms, and Laswell rents out her own livestock to help. One way or another, volunteers find ways to help the kids participate, she said.
Among those preparing Saturday was her 10-year-old grandson Tyler Hamilton, a student at Riley Elementary School. This will be his second year in 4-H and he’ll show both dairy and swine.
“It’s really fun. Either way, if you lose or you win,” he said, pointing out he particularly enjoys hanging out with his friends at the fair.
Hayley Hayhurst, a 9-year member, said she’ll show three heifers, two steers and two hogs this year. Her cattle are Polled Herefords, a breed her family has been showing for years.
“That’s what we show. It’s our thing,” the third generation 4-H’er said.
In addition to spending time with her friends throughout the year-round activities, the Terre Haute South Vigo High School student said lots of learning opportunities exist for participants. Working with the animals requires a lot of accountability.
“I just think it’s an awesome leadership and responsibility experience,” she said. “It’s a good life-building activity.”
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.