Wednesday, July 18, 2012

4-H Families - proud reflections of rural America

I pledge my HEAD to clearer thinking,
my HEART to greater loyalty,
my HANDS to larger service, and
my HEALTH to better living......
for my club, my community, my country and my WORLD. - the 4-H pledge

The five McKenzie County 4-H showmen competing for the 'Round Robin' award.  For each species (goats, horses, beef, hogs, and sheep), each year the champion showman competes in a round robin competition.  Gracie Dahl (goats), Taylor Dwyer (horses and beef), Breann Obritsch (reserve champion beef), Seth Obritsch (hogs), and Nate Egeberg (sheep) are pictured here awaiting the results after showing all five species, with the highest point earner winning the 2012 McKenzie County Round Robin Showmanship award.  Seth was the 2012 winner and Breann reserve.  Both received trophy buckles  from the Zaye Lindvig (a McKenzie County 4-H member who died in 1996 at the age of 19 from a childhood disease and who's family still exibits the 4-H's in the above pledge) livestock showmanship memorial.

Last week was the McKenzie County Fair.  County fairs are the highlight of most 4-H families year and a social staple of rural America.

The ranch had the honor of sponsoring a couple of the awards given there and Rita, Kim and I had a great time judging static exhibits, interviewing the 4-Hers and learning more about the experiences behind their projects.  I attended the livestock sale and was able to purchase the Grand Champion market hog that was locally raised and cared for by a 4-Her who's family embodies all that is good with rural America and the lifestyle (as well as life lessons) it has to offer.  This is a win : win situation for both our family and visitors to the ranch (there will be a little pork to break up the beef based meals periodically) as well as the 4-Her.

One of five steer classes at the 2012 McKenzie County Fair.

McKenzie County is cattle country, specifically cow/calf.  The county has a large amount of 'badlands' terrain which without ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats have a stomach with 4 compartments allowing them to make use of forages that monogasterics (humans, poultry, hogs...) cannot) has little to no food production value.  Most of this country is not farmable due to ruggedness and soil that is less productive due to its type.  My point, when there are 65,000 cows and 15,000 people (before the oil boom, that number was closer to 5,000) in a county, the 4-H livestock projects, specifically steers, are a BIG part of the county fair.

The McKenzie County 4-H livestock community 'chillin' in the beef barn after the show.

There were 44 steers this year and a handful of hogs, sheep, goats, poultry and other small animals.  Unlike many county fairs where premiums are sold, when you buy an animal at the McKenzie County 4-H livestock sale, you own the animal.  There is a huge amount of support from local and regional businesses that understand two things - 4-H and the lessons learned through it's participation strengthens the H's (again, see the pledge above) and instills a deeper understanding of them in participating youth.  Also, they have the opportunity to purchase locally raised, fed, harvested and processed meat to fill their and their employees freezers for the upcoming year.

This year there was an interesting twist to the 4-H livestock sale.

A little girl (2 years old) in the community, from the Keene area was diagnosed with leukemia the middle of June.  Her father grew up in McKenzie County and was a 4-H kid back in the late 80's and 90's.  They are a ranching family and all the kids were members of the 'Keene Lucky Leaf' 4-H club growing up.

Before the 4-H livestock sale this year,  each 4-H youth selling a market animal in the sale was given the opportunity to donate a portion of the sale of their animal to this family to defray medical expenses and expenses incurred during their two month stay down at Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN.

Before the sale started, the county agenty held up a 3 inch stack of donation cards which were voluntarily contributed to the family from 4-H members wanting to help one of their community members in need.  When I asked the dollar amount this morning, it was yet to be tallied, but it was predicted to be significant.  This group of 4-Hers were AMAZING and expressed their 4-H's (again, see the above pledge) in a way that brought a tear to my eye and reminded me yet again of how important 'community' is and how at their young ages, these 4-Her already know this.

During the Round Robin competition.  Each showman has 2 minutes with each of the five species.  The judges score the showman's handling of each animal as well as asking them production questions to evaluate their knowledge of each of the livestock species.
Around Elkhorn Creek Ranch, we bleed NDSU BISON green and gold, we howl with the WCHS Wolves, and we are KEENE LUCKY LEAVES at heart!
My parents enrolled me and my sister in 4-H the first year that we were eligible and we were active members from ages 8 to 18. 

Just a few of the life lessons I learned in 4-H:
  • Winning isn't everything, but still do your best at what ever you commit to doing.  Anything less will let down your team and yourself.
  • Be a gracious winner, but an even more gracious loses.  Losing graciously makes you a winner in the end and you will probably learn more from the loss than you would have from the win.
  • Your 'competition' is also your community members (genetic (yes, a genetic community is a family), 4-H or otherwise) - play fair, play hard, RAISE those around you UP as sometimes you might be the one raising and sometimes you might be the one needing the 'up' - either way, it promotes the greater good and supports 'team'. 
  • Take care of your animals - how they are cared for and how they act are a direct reflection of you.
  • Understanding the circle of life and what makes the world go around.  Keep it real.  Respect the resources, others and yourself.
  • Cry for 'SPUD' (my first 4-H steer and class II winner of the 1984 McKenzie County Fair) and then move forward always remembering it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.
  • At ANY AGE, keep your head clear, your heart loyal, your hands serving (others, that it... if you have come to serve yourself, go home and do that on your own time) and your health a priority (so you have more years of service to others in you)!
To the 2012 McKenzie Country 4-Hers and their families, congratulations on an excellent fair and for being a PROUD reflection of all that is good in rural America.  And to Seth, thanks for the pork!  We are looking forward to it!

As always, greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation.


  1. Wonderful post! The 4-H pledge is forever ingrained in my mind, and the lessons learned from those many years of friendship, learning, and hard work are some of my best memories of growing up. I am a little partial, but still think Keene Lucky Leaf is the best club of the group. :)

    I am in awe of the sense of support and community the 4-Hers this year gave to the Wisness family.

  2. I know nancy. Amazing. The extension office tallied the contributions today. Right around $5000. Incredible.