Sept. 28 2016 11:59 AM

For me, 4-H made dairy fun and helped shape my future.

Next week, many people working in the dairy cattle industry will be focused on an event called World Dairy Expo. This show is a celebration that draws thousands of dairy enthusiasts from around the globe to Madison, Wis., each fall.

Also celebrated next week, October 2 to October 8, is National 4-H Week. Coincidently, this youth organization helped give many people in the dairy industry their start, and I know it influenced some of my life and career choices.

I grew up on a dairy farm, and for as long as I can remember, I have always liked cows. While I really enjoyed working on the farm growing up (and still do), a big reason why I decided to major in dairy science and pursue an agricultural career was 4-H.

For me, 4-H made dairy fun. It was my first opportunity to participate in cattle showing and dairy judging. It let me spend time with other youth from farms who shared my interest in animals. Coming from a high school with few “farm kids,” this was a definite draw.

Later in my 4-H career, I attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference, and this was my first real opportunity to meet dairy youth from around the state and around the country. Again, it was fun to connect with others who had grown up on a farm, who knew what it was like to balance school and barn chores, and who had taken senior photographs with a cow like I had.

This experience further proved to me how much I enjoyed being around people in agriculture. When I headed to college the next fall, it helped me decide that I wanted to major in dairy science so that I could work in the industry with people like that.

As an adult, I had the chance to start a 4-H club and be a leader for a few years. This was eye opening for me, as these kids were not what I, from my own experiences, considered typical 4-Hers. They didn’t know about projects or record books. They didn’t come from a family with several generations of 4-H members. The idea of exhibiting something at the county fair was completely foreign to them.

For these kids, 4-H provided a place to belong, an opportunity to do fun activities, and a time to learn new skills. Above all, it was an hour each month to have fun. Although different from my 4-H experience, many of the overall benefits gained by these youth were not unlike my own.

4-H looks different to different people, and the youth development program will keep evolving as time passes. I know it helped shape my interests, and in turn my career, and I am ever thankful for that. I hope the organization can continue to do the same for youth in the future, whether they are going into agriculture or another career field. If you were lucky enough to be a member of 4-H as a youth, take a few moments this National 4-H Week to think back on how the organization shaped you.

Abby Bauer

The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison.