4-H is about providing opportunities for youth to learn in areas of their interest, or to experience something new - even to show livestock if they don't own an animal!

Jaime Hanson, 4-H Program Coordinator for Brown County, said 4-H is about providing opportunities for youth to learn in areas of their interest, or to experience something new. “For the livestock projects, it takes a lot of time, effort, money, and facilities,” said Hanson. “For several of our 4-H members, facilities is an area they fall short on. That is where our lease program becomes a shining light of opportunity met by local livestock producers who are willing to lend a hand.”

Hanson said there are multiple families, with several species, that lease their animals to 4-H members. “Some have been doing so for a few years, while others are just getting started.”

Hanson has some good firsthand knowledge of how the leasing program can work for 4-H members. Her parents, Jim and Jeri Hanson, lease beef cattle to three families in Brown, Watonwan and Cottonwood counties.

“This year, we are providing eight heifers for four girls,” said Jeri Hanson. “We are responsible for the daily feeding and care of these heifers. The 4-H members are committed to being at the farm at least three times a week to provide help with the brushing, washing, blow drying, grooming and walking/leading the animals in preparation for the shows. The heifers and kids bond with this time together.”

Hanson said, to them, leasing is more than taking the animals to the fair and showing in the ring. “It is a learning experience for several months. Our goal is to teach responsibility, respect, and commitment—to each other, to the animal and to the project,” she said. “This is their project. We all work together and help each other as needed.”

Stacy Green of Comfrey said their two daughters lease heifers from J & J Hanson Herefords, and described it as a wonderful experience working with the Hanson family. “We work together as a team to fulfill the lease agreement,” said Green. “Haily and Paige have learned so much from them over the past couple of years. They enjoy going over to their farm—we only live a couple of miles apart—three to four times a week, if not more.”

Hailey Green, age 13, said leasing heifers from the Hansons is a good experience and life lesson. “Lots of responsibility,” she said. Her sister, Paige, age 12, said, “It is a good experience—it toughens me up!”

Their mom said both girls echoed the following about the lessons they’ve learned: “Responsibility. Taking care of the heifers, making sure they are clean and listening and following directions. We have lots of fun, too!”

Jeri and Jim Hanson were each 10 year members of 4-H and adult leaders for 21 years. “Along the way, many people provided us with help or information whenever asked,” said Jeri Hanson. “This is one small way for us to pay back, or pay forward. The leasing program as a win/win for the 4-H members and the producer/breeder. The leased animals give the 4-Her an opportunity to enjoy and learn from a project they may not have had the chance to experience before. It also provides for us, the producer, the help in training and exposure of animals we plan to show/sell in the future.”

Hanson said she has many memories through the summers, of watching 4-Hers help train a feisty calf into a well-trained, groomed heifer and then walk into the show ring with confidence and composure. “It makes it all well worth the hours spent in the barn with these young people. They all work hard and make us proud.”

Jill Nelson, of Olmar Farms, said they’ve leased to a local family for eight years. “For a few years, there were three kids showing, and one has continued,” she said. “We provide them with three new calves to work with each year, in addition to animals they have shown in past years.” Nelson said she’s also worked with several other new show people, over many years, to teach them the tricks of showing animals.

“I’ve always believed there is no better way to develop confidence and patience, then by training and showing livestock,” said Nelson. “Seriously, even the biggest 4-H member will be outweighed by a few hundred pounds by a six-month-old calf. So, to be able to tame them, gain the trust of the animal and break them to lead, is a huge confidence booster.”

Nelson said the word “can’t” is heard a lot in the beginning, but 4-H members learn really fast that “can’t” is not allowed on their farm. “I can, but it might be hard,” is perfectly acceptable, said Nelson.

“Livestock show kids also learn patience, to accept that every day may be different in how the animal behaves, especially early in the learning process,” said Nelson. “The other big one is responsibility. The kids who lease animals are expected to care for these animals, sometimes at their home, and especially during the fairs. They have to understand that this animal is completely depending on them for their food, water and well being. Until they are doing it, they may not appreciate what a task it can be, and that oftentimes, their own wants and needs may come second to the animal’s needs.”

Nelson also likes that the kids learn about where their food comes from. “And in today’s age of false accusations against animal agriculture, they understand the truth about how well animals are cared for,” she said. “On a more selfish side, I appreciate having tame cows in the milking herd, and the 4-H cows are usually easiest to work with.”

Nelson shared a favorite memory of a 4-H member who had a temperamental calf one year. “The 4-Her had worked hard to train her and work with her, but this calf could still throw a fit when she wanted,” said Nelson. “Just before entering the ring, the calf was being unruly and the 4-Her had tears in her eyes and was afraid to go in. She said, ‘I can’t,’ and I said, ‘You can and you will be so proud when you do. Go in and do your best, I’m right here.’ Upon exiting the ring, with ribbon in hand and the calf under control, I could see that she finally knew she could do so much more than she thought. That is why we do this and I wish more people could have this sort of experience—helping someone develop life skills and conquer their fears.”

Farmer Paul Meidl said they started leasing sheep to the Miesen family from Springfield in about 2001. “At the time it was a way to get afamily that lived in town a chance to become involved in the 4-H program,” explained Meidl. “Melanie, Danielle, and Joe Miesen all showed sheep. Danielle showed the longest of the three and also showed for FFA at the State Fair. Their mom, Maureen, was very active in the 4-H program and went on to be a club leader.”

Meidl started leasing to the Hoffmann family, from Sleepy Eye, in 2012. “The first year both Cassidy and Morgan showed two lambs apiece,” he said. “Cassidy also started showing for FFA at the State Fair in 2014. This year Cassidy is showing four lambs and Morgan is showing three.” Meidl is also leasing to the Bianchi family from New Ulm—Lizzy and Abby are showing three lambs each.

“I think leasing animals to kids who don't have their own is a good way for them to learn about raising the animals,” said Meidl. “Even though the animals stay at our house, the kids are still the ones who have to come out here and get them trained. Both families are here two to three times a week to work with the lambs. Before we head to the fair, they will have to wash and shear all the lambs to get them ready.”

Meidl said when the kids do well with their lambs, the smile on their face is priceless. “Being involved in the leasing program has also been a great way for our family to become friends with the parents of the kids we lease to,” he said. The kids also come out in winter, when the lambs are being born, to see them when they are small and cute.

Cassidy and Morgan Hoffmann started out showing their own rabbits at the county fair. “Next, we had the opportunity to show llamas, with the Hackers,” said Cassidy. “This was a great experience. Morgan even leased dairy animals from the Rosenhammers for a few years.” Cassidy said it has been really fun getting to show numerous types of animals at the fair, even though they don’t raise them ourselves. “Through leasing, we could go and work with ‘our’ animals, and have a chance to show them,” she said.

“After these experiences, Morgan and I decided to try showing sheep,” said Cassidy. “Paul Meidl and his kids have been excellent mentors and ‘family’ to us. Now, we buy sheep from the Meidls to show at county and state fair for 4-H and FFA.” Meidl mentioned that Cassidy took her ewe lamb, Ruby, to the state fair in 2015 for 4-H, and won her class. “Last year she won her class with a market lamb at the state FFA show,” he said.

“My sister Morgan and I have learned a great deal about how to care for and show many different types of livestock,” said Cassidy. “We have learned about being responsible and the time and work it takes to get animals ready for showing—including how to shear a sheep. We’ve also learned that 4-H and FFA shows are all about spending time with family, and have found a new family to be part of by showing sheep. The Meidls are amazing!”

4-H Coordinator Jaime Hanson said that Barry Schenk is also involved in the program. “He has a handful of Brown County youngsters leasing hogs,” said Hanson.

“The livestock leasing program just really helps exemplify the 4-H ‘family affair’ along with giving back while helping grow true leaders,” said Hanson, who shared that Grow #TrueLeaders is 4-H’s nationwide campaign.

So, when you are walking through the 4-H barns at the fair next week, remember—your child could do that, too!