Sept. 3 2018 08:00 AM

Our children have graduated from 4-H, but the lessons learned will last them a lifetime.

Sara, Tim, James, Kate, and Jane Griswold, 2017

Last week, the cattle trailer came home from state fair for the very last time as the Griswold family completed their final 4-H event. James took his last spin in the beef ring as a 4-H’er, and as heart wrenching as it was for me to be absent, it gave me time to pause and reflect on the valuable life lessons learned long after the fair.

Our children, Kate, Sara, and James, dove into a variety of projects during their 4-H years. This included foods, photography, plants, cake decorating, cultural arts, rabbits, chickens, sheep, woodworking, home environment, pigs, dairy, vet sciences, creative writing, child development, family history, and beef. Different projects for different kids highlighted different skills. However, it was the animal project experiences that have been life changing . . . or I should say, have memories that will last a lifetime!

Here are just a few of the lessons our children learned over the years:

  • Spending countless hours together in the barn gave a new understanding to cooperation, delegation, leadership, and management.
  • “Never give up” proved useful more than once, both in and out of the showring!
  • First- and last-placed animals still needed to be fed and cared for after the show.
  • Some steers were easier than others to put on the trailer the last time.
  • Paying attention to the details of what is being fed, tracking weekly weights, and understanding the total project gives you a competitive edge.
  • Banners, ribbons, and trophies are exciting moments, but the experiences and stories along the way are forever memories.
  • The people you meet in the barn, including other exhibitors, volunteers, and mentors, will be people you connect with for a lifetime in all aspects of agriculture.

My role with the kids and their projects included cheerleading and refereeing (sometimes in the same hour), hydration, show shirt buying, show supply purchasing, show day lunch cooler packing, decorations, and postfair clothes washing. I was also the photographer and completed various other duties as they came up.

The true hero in making the animal projects come together has been my husband, Tim! Late nights and early mornings in the barn, taking kids to show camps and pasture walk outings to buy cattle, loading and unloading the trailer, managing feed inventories, helping break animals to lead, buying shavings, hauling bark mulch, working with registrations and health papers, early morning departures, empowering the kids to learn to clip and prep the animals, and having the needed equipment were all taken care of by Tim.

It might have been a coincidence, but while James was showing at the Wisconsin State Fair for the final time, and I was sidelined at home, I was on the phone with someone I met at state fair when I was an exhibitor. We reminisced about the time in the barn together and laughed about how quickly the years have passed!

James, Kate, and Sara in 2016

Although the final chapter of exhibiting has come to a close at our house, our three kids have already used skills learned through 4-H in organizations and activities during their college years, in their jobs, and in their personal lives. The best is yet to come as they are prepared to give back as 4-H leaders and volunteers. Thank-you 4-H!

The author is a Sr. Dairy Marketing Manager for Hoard’s Dairyman. She operates a small livestock farm near Cross Plains, Wis., with her husband and children.