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Watching a kid grow up in 4-H

Jenny Schlecht's daughter Reanna hangs on to her Rosie after getting showing the bottle calf at the Stustman County Fair on June 29, 2018. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 3
Reanna Schlecht takes Rosie out of the barn to get her to the fair on June 29, 2018. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service2 / 3
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I was just innocently standing there, watching the kids run around at a 4-H meeting and social event. That's when a couple other parents started asking if my daughter was going to bring one of her bottle calves to the fair.

My kid is 6, and joining the 4-H club was a big deal to her this year. I also was a 10-year 4-H member, but I didn't join until I was old enough to be a regular member. She is a Cloverbud, where youngsters get to learn about 4-H. The Cloverbuds back in my county in Montana couldn't take livestock to the fair, and it really hadn't crossed my mind that we'd be diving into this already.

A little part of me, upon learning of the Stutsman County Fair's Cloverbud showmanship events, wanted to bury that information deep in my brain and never let it out to Reanna. I remember all the fair can be, after 10 years of showing livestock. Stressful, exhausting, hectic. Oh, it's also fun and a great learning experience — no doubt about that. But as someone who showed lambs and cattle over the years and then didn't attend a fair for a decade afterwards, I was tired just thinking about it. Plus, some quick math told me that if she started showing already, and she and her sister continued through high school, we'd be in for 17 years of livestock shows.

Once I offered the opportunity to Reanna, she jumped at it. We bought some sheep halters and started working with both of our bottle calves. We decided to focus on Rosie, a gorgeous little Black Angus heifer.

As the weeks wore on, even with far less practice than we should have done, Rosie grew to understand what pressure on the halter meant. She walked along happily behind her girl, occasionally sucking on Reanna's shirt or licking at her fingers.

When the day of the show dawned, Reanna commanded that she would be the one to lead Rosie out of the barn and to the trailer. I stood by, expecting disaster, what with a half-trained calf heading into the wide open. As much as I wanted to trust my daughter, I also wanted to grab onto the halter and just do the work myself to make sure Rosie didn't drag Reanna all over the farm.

But disaster never came. Rosie didn't take off. Reanna didn't panic. And soon we had a happy little calf at the fair.

I watched my daughter and three other girls lead their little calves into a show ring and stand confidently speaking to a judge about their calves. Cloverbuds is just about participation, so there was no ranking. But there's no doubt all four were winners.

A year ago, I don't think Reanna would have been ready to walk into that ring. But after a year in 4-H, she's starting to do all sorts of things she hadn't done before. She completed two other projects for the fair, in addition to showing Rosie, and swallowed her nerves to show them off to a judge. She's got a record book almost completed, telling about a year of meetings and events in her own words. And she makes new friends all the time.

When you are with a kid every day, it's easy to miss how much they grow and change. For me, watching Reanna walk into all of her fair activities this year, willing to leave my side and do her own thing, showed me just how much she's grown. Part of that is just that she's getting older, but a lot of it is the confidence that can come with 4-H. I can't wait to watch her 4-H career continue.

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