It’s Showtime For County 4-H’ers

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Teen, Agent Talk Livestock, State Of Area 4-H Program

Ashley Hostetter is a sophomore in high school, but she seems older. Many people assume she’s a senior.

“I get that a lot,” Hostetter said.

She’s not nervous about participating in the Rockbridge Regional Fair this week, which starts on Thursday. That’s partly because, as a longtime member of 4-H, she has learned to be forward.

Hostetter’s mother, Laurie Allgood, said that, after presentations from collegiate animal judging teams, “We would always encourage the kids: ‘Go up, introduce yourself, shake their hands, say thank you’ … and, for [Ashley], it really brought her out of her shell. Now she doesn’t mind getting up and speaking in front of somebody. Doesn’t think twice about it now.”

Hostetter will be showing a pig named Moose and a heifer named Kay. Moose will go up for auction, but as for Kay, who is “very pregnant,” Hostetter just hopes she will make it to the fair before giving birth.

Although she’s showing just two animals at the fair, Hostetter cares for many more on her family farm in the Collierstown area. Standing outside, her mother gestured to a sun-soaked pasture in front of the house, where many cows were grazing. “Majority of these animals are pretty much Ashley’s,” she said.

Hostetter led her pig and heifer around the farm. The pig is white with black stripes, and he trotted around with energy. The heifer, which looked uncomfortable in the late-day heat, nevertheless held out her chin and posed calmly for pictures.

Hostetter said that the hardest part of caring for a calf is “day-to-day maintenance and breaking it in.” Caring for a pig, on the other hand, “is not that hard … you have to feed them every day, and it’s good to get them out and walk them ... [to] train your pig not to run from you — or to try to get them not to run from you — because sometimes they just like to take off.”

She mentioned how, last year, her pig got into a big fight with another pig. Luckily, that incident was overshadowed by a greater success: Hostetter won supreme showmanship. Her prize was an intricate belt buckle, which she wore last week during the interview for this article.

Hostetter is grateful to 4-H for many reasons, but she said that not many of her classmates are involved in the program. When pressed for a reason, she took a minute to think. Then she said, “People are more into sports. But sometimes I feel like my generation just doesn’t want to do anything outside of school … It’s the time commitment.”

When asked about what they might be doing — when they’re not doing anything — Hostetter laughed and said, immediately, “Playing games.”

Megan Sheets, the 4-H Extension agent for Rockbridge, told The News-Gazette that the number of livestock participants within the 4-H program has remained pretty stable over the last four years. But as the Cloverbud kids age, she hopes to see an upswing in participation.

The Cloverbud club, which began about 18 months ago, is a 4-H program designed specifically for children ages 5 to 8.

“That age group doesn’t have a lot of options in terms of extracurriculars, if they don’t play a sport,” Sheets said. “The Cloverbud club in Rockbridge was born out of that need for those kids that don’t have any of those traditional interests.”

There’s a share program for families that don’t have access to land, so even suburban kids can raise livestock. This is important for the livelihood of the 4-H livestock program, especially since the number of participants from working farms is dwindling.

Even in Rockbridge County, Sheets has noticed a significant change. “Ten years ago, most of the people you’d see [in the 4-H livestock program] were living on working farms. … That’s not so much the case anymore.”

Sheets speculated that the shift was natural. “People have grown up. … My brother and I are going to build homes and live on our family’s farm, but not everyone is so lucky. … In a lot of cases a farm can’t support multiple generations of a family, and so young people need to purchase land to buy a farm, or get a house off the farm.”

Some residents have put their property in easements to ensure that their land — and the land of Rockbridge County more generally — won’t be turned into a parking lot or a shopping mall. But the easements also restrict property owners in terms of what they can build on their land, and by extension, how much of their family they can accommodate, she said.

When asked about the future of the 4-H livestock program, Sheets said, “I want to see growth. But I just want the community to support the program like they always have. It teaches the youth so many things. It’s an experience that can’t be rivaled.”

For Ashley Hostetter and her mother Laurie Allgood, the 4-H livestock program instills in its youth intangible character traits, like respect and a sense of responsibility. But it also teaches basic facts about life.

Allgood said that some youths “don’t even know where eggs come from. They think hamburgers are made out of ham! Even the kids in this county.”

Hostetter chimed in, “Kids around the county should know where their stuff comes from.”

A group of second-graders will be going to the fair on Thursday morning, and Hostetter will help show them around, and instruct them about the animals. She said that a group of fourth-graders usually comes, too, and they learn about raising animals along with other topics, like soil conservation. Hostetter’s big events will take place on Friday. The 4-H showmanship is Friday morning, and the 4-H live auction will be later that evening.

Her future goals include going to college and starting a career in agriculture, Hostetter said. But there’s a strong chance that she will come back to the 4-H world and support it.

Sheets, who already works in the 4-H world, said, “It’s never the same day twice… I don’t feel like it’s a job.” Once, Sheets said, a girl at 4-H camp asked her, “Megan, what do you do for money?”

Megan laughed. She said, “They think I do this for fun. And they’re right, it is fun.”

The News-Gazette

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