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4-H Grows Character

IMG_1514Growing 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   It’s never too late to start growing character and make a positive difference!

It All Began with Ag…

4-H Began with agriculture in 1902 and over the past 100 years  has grown to help youth learn about everything from agriculture to aerospace.

4-H began with agriculture in 1902 and over the past 100 years has grown to help youth learn about everything from agriculture to aerospace.

4-H began with the seed of an idea. In 1902, America needed folks to embrace new advances in agriculture. But leaders with open minds, strong hearts and willing hands weren’t in abundance. Luckily, kids were. By empowering the next generation to lead, 4-H took root, and grew. 4-H grew kids who are confident and strong; who are curious enough to question and capable enough to find the answer. We grew kids who stick to a job until the job gets done; who know how to work with others and most importantly, how to lead.

Over the century, 4-H has kept right on growing. We grew out of the farms and into the towns, suburbs, and cities. Today, 4-H exists anywhere curiosity roams and confidence thrives; anywhere technology can be advanced and achievement is valued. 4-H is anywhere positive change is possible and giving back moves entire communities forward.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that we began with farming. After all, true leaders aren’t born- they’re grown. Next week (October 4th-10th) marks National 4-H Week. This year, to celebrate, our blog will highlight how 4-H is growing Confidence, Curiosity, Compassion, Character, and Responsibility by sharing the stories of real Florida panhandle 4-H members, volunteers, and alumni. We hope that you will enjoy this series and that you will be inspired to make a difference in your community by sharing your skills, talents, and passions with other 4-H youth and volunteers. We hope you are inspired to cultivate 4-H so that it can keep right on growing for the next 100 years! For more information about 4-H, visit or contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office.