Growing up, we lived on a farm. At the age of 8, and not weighing much more than 50 pounds, my dad called me outside to a relatively small pen that he had fenced off the weekend before. He taught ag, so farming was more of a hobby for us, but this was something new. I noticed my grandpa’s old beat up blue horse trailer backed to the pen’s gate. I can remember my dad helping me climb onto the wheel well of the trailer and peek through the slats to see two yearling steers. One black and one red and white. “Which one do you want?” he asked. At the time I didn’t know that the judge always picks the black cow to win, in fact, I didn’t know there were any judges involved at all. I didn’t know why these cows were at our house about to go into a special pen. All I knew was that red cow was beautiful, and that’s the one I chose. My dad laughed and said, “He’s a haus.” So that became his name.
As it turns out, Haus was a show steer. With my dad’s help I spent a lot of cold, dark evenings after school walking that steer with fingers so numb I thought they’d break off if he jerked too hard. I learned to groom him. I learned to lead him. I learned how to feed him properly. And I learned that extra hoses and an automatic waterer were well worth the investment the next year when it cut down on the number of trips I had to make with cumbersome, sloshing, five gallon buckets of water to make sure the cows didn’t go thirsty.
I quickly fell in love with the whole idea of showing cattle, and by the Fed Cattle Show, Haus was well over 1,500 lbs. Incidentally, I hadn’t gained an ounce – in retrospect it might have had something to do with hauling those buckets of feed and water. However, I wasn’t scared. You see, as Haus grew, so did I. Not physically as I mentioned before, but my skill had grown, and so had my confidence.
For those of you who don’t know, showing cattle isn’t like other 4-H competitions where you are placed in age categories. The classes are based on animal weight in a steer show. So I walked in the ring to show with people more than twice my age. I didn’t know any better. As luck would have it, Haus not only placed first in his class, but he placed 2nd in the show as Reserve Grand Champion behind the steer everyone said was the clear favorite. What they couldn’t believe was that an eight year girl with less than a year of show experience and a white-faced red cow had beaten a sixteen year old veteran pro with a pure bread black Angus on her lead. Apparently it was a bit of a toss up between her steer and mine as to which would take the Reserve Champion spot. And as I was repeatedly told, when it’s close, the black cow always wins – no matter who’s on the lead.
From this experience I learned that it didn’t matter my age or size, I could do anything. The confidence I gained from this experience sparked a courage in me that pushed me to become a champion in poultry, livestock, and land judging, in public speaking, and in showing rabbits, chickens and hogs as well. I used each of those experiences to fuel countless other successes in life. And each time I was further building that courage. The same courage that gave me the strength of character to be honest, to show integrity when it’s not easy, and to care for others around me. It gave me the strength of character to make wise choices even when they were widely unpopular and to stand alone when it would have been easier to follow the crowd.
It certainly hasn’t always been easy. And I’ve failed a time or two. But, I continue to grow – much like the 4-H motto suggests, “To Make the Best Better”. I will be forever grateful to my mom and dad for choosing 4-H as the vehicle to start my lifelong journey toward an upstanding character. Through them and their support and guidance I came in contact with agents, volunteers, and friends from other clubs and counties who have helped me grow. Now it’s my turn and yours to inspire the next generation. How will you empower youth in your community to grow through 4-H? 4-H offers a wide range of opportunities for youth and adults- everything from animal science to aerospace. To volunteer or enroll a child in 4-H, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org. It’s never too late to start growing character and make a positive difference!