4-H dairy project revived with assistance from UI Dairy
For the first time in more than a decade, 4-H youth in Latah County will be participating in the dairy cattle competition at the Latah County Fair thanks in part to the University of Idaho Dairy.
Kim O’Neill, mother of 9-year-old 4-H member Stella, is leading the UI Extension 4-H Youth Development project that has been defunct in Latah County for several years after wanting to provide kids living in town with the opportunity to learn more about large animals.
“This is how I began my 4-H career, which led to great experiences in FFA and helped me choose a degree in ag education,” said O’Neill, who is also the associate vice president of development at UI. “Ultimately, it was my experiences in these youth development programs that helped me achieve my professional success and I want that for as many youth as possible in Latah County.”
The UI Dairy agreed to loan one heifer to each participant to train and show at the fair, at no cost to the participant. Derrick Mamer, UI Dairy assistant manager and recent graduate from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), has been helping train the youth with their animals.
Mamer grew up on her parent’s cow/calf operation in Caldwell. She graduated from CALS in May 2017 with a degree in agricultural systems management and has been assistant manager at the dairy facility since her junior year.
“I did 4-H when I was younger; I showed beef, pigs and rabbits, so it’s been kind of cool to give back in the same way 4-H leaders have done for me and be able to actually have these animals and be able to sponsor the kids,” Mamer said. “It’s been really fun to see the kids be scared of them to begin with and now they’re best friends with their heifers. They love them and they’re all out there hugging their heifers every time they’re here.”
Mamer feels the collaboration with the 4-H youth has helped the dairy to be more involved with the community. It will also be the first time the dairy will be able to show their stock by having their heifers as part of the fair competition.
The 4-Hers have been training their heifers with Mamer once a week since May. They are responsible for doing a health check at every visit to ensure the cows are healthy, as well as handling the animals on a walk around the farm. In exchange for being loaned the heifers, the youth were asked to help with some additional work at the dairy over the course of the summer, such as milking in the parlor.
“Every time they come out it’s a learning experience,” Mamer said. “None of them have ever handled a large animal before, so we’ve gone over things like animal safety procedures, and how the feed is made for these heifer’s rations. Each kid got to come out and do a calf check with me, and three of them actually had the chance to pull a calf. They understand that being in agriculture is laborious but it is super rewarding.”
Jodi Walker, director of communications at UI and mother of 13-year-old 4-H member Ashlyn, feels that this project has allowed the youth to not only explore a new subject matter, but also to learn other valuable lesson of 4-H, such as leadership, responsibility and public speaking.
“Derrick has been amazing. She has been so engaged, and she’s gone above and beyond in order to share her knowledge with these kids,” Walker said. “She works with them after hours, she mentors them when they’re at the dairy, and she also provides them with her experience from 4-H, connecting with them in ways that are great for the kids to be able to see how 4-H led into a career for Derrick.”
The dairy project will conclude at the Latah County Fair Sept. 14-17 when participants show off their heifers and their new skills.
Story by Jean Parrella, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences