4-H helps Cowichan teen reach steer-raising dream

4-H: it’s not just for farmers anymore.

In fact, it never was just for farmers. In addition to offering a wide variety of nonfarm-specific clubs, such as photography, small engines, wool craft and gardening, it is also completely possible to raise an animal without having a farm of one’s own. "Not owning a farm certainly does not limit the members to a non-livestock project," Cowichan 4-H leader Scott Fraser said. "There are several members in Beef, Dairy and Horse who own an animal but board it at someone else’s farm, while others lease or borrow an animal from local farmers."

It’s a common misconception that 4-H is just for farmers, and the organization wants to make it known that the truth is much different.

"Several people are unaware of the opportunities now available to those not owning a farm," Fraser continued. "There seems to be a belief that only ‘farm kids’ can be a 4-H member. Although the early days of 4-H may have involved mostly agriculturally based projects, there are several new projects that have been developed to expand the opportunities to all our youth."

A case in point is Kaylee Colbourne of Cobble Hill, who got involved in 4-H Beef at the age of 18, despite not having a farm of her own.

Colbourne’s participation in 4-H got its start when she and her family were eating at a restaurant in Duncan and overheard people nearby talking about the club. It had always been a dream of Colbourne’s to raise a cow, and the chance meeting with the James family, who had a farm of their own and sons in 4-H, gave her the chance to do that.

In her first year with 4-H, two years ago, she was able to keep her steer on the James family farm.

"It was kind of a challenge because I worked full-time, but I was still going over to see him a few times a week," she recalled. "It was nice that he had a set schedule from them, so I knew he was being fed at a certain time every day."

Not being onsite with her steer didn’t prevent her from being involved.

"I would go over and clean his stall once a week and get him used to being on a halter," she said. "They would feed him and helped show me basically what I had to do. Everybody in the club was helpful, and if I didn’t know how to do something, they would show me how."

Being involved in a 4-H agriculture club isn’t without its challenges.

There are ways to get around some of them, Fraser points out.

"For those who are trying to get started in a livestock project that don’t own a farm it can be a little challenging," he said.

"In many cases the member’s parent may not have any background in livestock so trying to make connections with local farmers may be difficult. One of the best ways to meet them is to go to our local fairs and exhibitions, and even the farmer’s markets. You will find that most farmers are down-to-earth and are willing to offer advice and share their knowledge. It can be very rewarding and educational for the entire family when they choose a livestock project if they have no farm background. Even if they don’t choose a livestock project, they will still be exposed to them at several fairs and will have an opportunity to meet members from those clubs at the various district, regional and provincial events and competitions."

Each branch of 4-H has different requirements, and they all have a variety of resources.

"In general most clubs have monthly meeting to discuss upcoming events, fundraising and program deadlines," Fraser said. "It also gives them the opportunity to learn more about their project, as sometimes they have guest speakers who come to these meetings to offer their knowledge or expertise."

After her first year with 4-H, Colbourne’s family moved to an acreage, and that’s where she raised the two steers that she displayed at this summer’s Cobble Hill fair. It became her own responsibility to feed them by a certain time each day, and make sure they couldn’t escape, but there were added benefits to having them on her own property.

"I really enjoyed seeing them every day," she said.

Still, Colbourne would definitely recommend boarding an animal on someone else’s farm if that’s a possibility.

"It’s probably the ideal way to start, especially for younger kids, because there’s not as much responsibility," she said.

Colbourne is now raising three steers, but she will be 20 next year, so she won’t be able to show as part of 4-H herself. She hopes, however, to work with younger members while she competes in open classes at fairs.

The fairs and other club activities are a huge part of the 4-H experience, and part of what sold her family on the organization as well.

"We went into it last year thinking it would be the only year she would do it, but we loved going to shows with her, and watching her mature and grow was nice too," said Kaylee’s mom, Lisa. "She hadn’t been in a lot of clubs and groups as a youth."

Even after the family moved to an acreage, Lisa thought Kaylee could continue boarding her animals, but that wasn’t to be.

"I wanted her to have her steers at the leader’s barn, but she was adamant she could do it," Lisa said. Kaylee worked three jobs and was still committed to her steers, and her family is completely behind her.

"As long as we want to do it, we want to support her and help her achieve what she wants to do," Lisa said.

The Colbournes’ one regret is that they didn’t get involved in 4-H sooner.

"I wish we had known that she could have been involved when we lived in Victoria," Lisa said. "It’s great if kids are interested in animals or agriculture or just want to be involved in a club. It was something she could have been doing for years, and we didn’t even know about it. She was only in it for two years, but I wish she could have been doing it longer."

Fraser notes that there are numerous benefits to being involved in 4-H. "Individuals who participate in 4-H will gain many life skills that others may not," he said. "They will gain public speaking experience, organizational skills, time management, responsibility, record keeping, accounting and so much more. Many universities and colleges will give preference to a 4-H member, and many companies looking to hire will as well. Several top executives and political figures have a past in 4-H." For more information about 4-H on Vancouver Island, visit http://bc4h.bc.ca/projects/clubs/allclubs, and for more information about Cowichan 4-H, contact Marion Davies at stayafloat@shaw.ca