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As a 4-H alumni, my journey in 4-H started when I was nine. My calf was a Holstein with a big belly, red fuzz around her nose, and a hunger for beet pulp. I also remember that she was much stronger than me and wasn’t afraid to show me who was boss.

As I grew up, I became more confident in my skills and strengths with calves, but also had the opportunity to watch as youths around me developed their own. 4-H clubs provide an excellent teaching opportunity where leaders flourish and where the agricultural industry can be taught in a hands-on and practical way.

What is 4-H?

The first Canadian “4-H club” began in Roland, Manitoba in 1913 with kids who were determined to grow potatoes from seed and hatch chickens from eggs. This agricultural club first came to British Columbia in 1914. During the first years, around 200 individuals were involved in competitions to grow potatoes, and was widened to poultry to introduce youth to a broader spectrum of agricultural practices.

This initiative became known as the Boys and Girls club, which acted as a precursor for 4-H. Each ‘H’ of the symbolic 4-leaf clover stood for head, heart, health, and hands, wherein members pledge clear minds, to be loyal to their community, live healthy lives, and serve others before themselves.

Soon, kids across the provinces were participating in this club for growing vegetables, and raising sheep, cattle, and horses.  By 1952, the Boys and Girls club in Canada had been renamed as a 4-H Club.

What do you do in dairy 4-H?

Each year, a 4-H’er is responsible for picking a ‘project’. While you can get involved in 4-H for beef cattle, chickens, rabbits, horses, bees, and even small engines, we’re going to talk about dairy cows. In dairy, a 4-H’er would pick a calf and is responsible for her health and well-being.

Each club would be split into age categories including juniors (9-11), intermediates (12-14), and seniors (15-19). As well, some clubs may include the Cloverbuds which are kids ages 6-8 who engage in 4-H activities.

While all club members are responsible for their own calf, club seniors are responsible to keep a record book where they monitor that the calf is well-nourished and growing well.

During the year, club members learn how to judge the dairy character of a cow, how to “clip” (a haircut and styling to show-off the cow), and how to walk a cow in a show ring. The motto of 4-H is “Learn to do by doing” which enables hands-on and active learning.

The culmination of these activities results in the members participating in fairs where they display how hard they have worked to improve their skills and compete against their peers. Last week, B.C. was the host of the 33rd annual Western Canadian Classic (WCC) where youth delegate teams from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba gathered to show off their year of dedication and hard work. This show is a prime example of how 4-H’ers continue to challenge each other and grow as a group. BC Dairy Association is proud to have been a sponsor for WCC and to see the show continue to develop young leaders within the dairy industry.

How 4-H Develops Leaders

A study in active 4-H members showed that those who participate in 4-H are four times more likely to be civically engaged, develop healthy eating habits, and reported higher academic fitness than those who participated in other extra-curricular activities.

4-H club alumni in Nebraska reported that the key skills that they gained by joining 4-H included a willingness to take responsibility, the ability to handle competition, and other leadership skills. Many respondents also reported a higher self-confidence.

Many of the activities within 4-H encourages  members to step a little outside of one’s comfort zone; whether by public speaking events, judging, or showmanship, the healthy competition allows members to develop goals and enhance communication skills in a positive environment.

As of 2017, there were approximately 25,000 youth participating in 4-H across Canada and around 84% of those youths identified as being from farm or rural residences. Provincially, around 2,450 youths participate in 4-H clubs—this means that young leaders in agriculture are being developed right in your province and continue to be nurtured within Canada.

In conclusion

As an alumni, my 4-H years were highlighted by opportunities that gave myself and my fellow 4-H’ers the opportunity to grow together and grow as individuals. My 4-H club taught me that dairy farming is a craft that it takes care and a lot of hard work to raise animals. Are you looking for an out of school activity to challenge you? This one might be right up your alley!

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