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Catch-A-Calf, Catch-A-Life Lesson

Written by Jennifer Womack
Bryce is taking an increasing interest in 4-H, looking over the project list more carefully and considering taking on the role of junior leader. Joshua, with just one year to wait, is counting down the days until he can graduate from the “Tumbleweed” division to full-fledged 4-H member.
    Last summer Bryce pointed out the catch-a-calf opportunity highlighted in the 4-H newsletter. After Chris and I talked it over, we agreed to let him apply. While he could pick a heifer from the herd here at the ranch, the expectations and responsibilities associated with the 4-H catch-a-calf project would provide a good learning experience. We also welcomed the opportunity for him to visit with the donor, send updates and thank you notes when appropriate, prepare the heifer for county fair and much more. He also had additional plans. The cow he raised from a bottle calf had a heifer this spring. Rather than taking a calf check for his college fund this year, he decided to keep the heifer, growing his cowherd to three head. He says it’s all part of his “corporate takeover” plan.
    At this rate I have no idea how long it will take Bryce to push the rest of us out of business, but I suspect there will be a threshold at which someone in the family brings up operating expenses. Plus, he’ll have his brother to compete with. This is difficult when one factors in that Joshua already thinks he owns the place and that we all work for him.
    I don’t know of another business that invests in its young people the way those in agriculture do. We appreciate Jerry and Anita Shepperson donating the heifer that Bryce plans to show at the 2012 Weston County Fair. It’s been fun to watch him work with her, starting her on grain and progressing toward halter breaking her. He’s excited about each milestone they achieve. We can already tell that the countdown to her first calf will seem agonizingly long in the world of a 13-year-old boy.
    While Bryce is focused on the heifer, Chris and I welcome the opportunity for him to learn responsibility, recordkeeping, follow-through, commitment to a project and so much more. We’ve also told him that at some point in the future we expect him to donate a heifer calf back to the program so another young person can receive similar benefits. Whether Bryce grows up to be a rancher or otherwise, the life skills and knowledge of agriculture will serve him well.
    Regardless of whether our young people who’ve grown up in 4-H and FFA pursue an agricultural career, the benefits are far-reaching. There’s the leadership, the responsibility and all of the traits that make them better members of society. I also love the fact that doctors, bankers, teachers, lawyers, businesspeople and those destined for a countless array of career paths graduate from the program. It’s equally important that they understand agriculture.
    Whether the catch-a-calf is the first critter in a long ranching career or a stepping-stone toward a more responsible adulthood, we’re confident she’ll have a lasting impact that stretches beyond the show ring at the county fairgrounds.
    Jennifer Vineyard Womack is executive director of the Wyoming FFA Foundation and a freelance writer. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 307-351-0730.