4-H club offers more than agricultural activities
Youths practicing wide variety of skills that are vital to successful life

By: CATHERINE JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

August 2, 2018


MILWAUKEE - Many people think of local 4-H clubs as organizations that help kids care for and show livestock at county and state fairs.

But besides animal and agricultural sciences, today’s 4-H youngsters -approximately 6 million of them across the United States-are learning robotics, photography, computer science, arts and crafts, model railroading, and much more. 4-H is open to children and teenagers ages 5-19.

“Youths are practicing skills crucial to a successful life,” said James Boling, youth and family educator for the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Extension.

In 1902 in Clark County, Ohio, A.B. Graham started a group for youth known as “The Corn Growing Club.” The group evolved into 4-H, now the largest empowerment and development organization for youth in the United States.

Molly Ellis, a 4-H support staff member for the UW-Waukesha extension, said over 500 area youths participate in 4-H clubs.

“We have really great volunteers that dedicate time to recruitment,” she said.

Ellis noted that about 40 Waukesha-area kids are selected to show livestock, including goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, and chickens, and other animals such as rabbits, in the Wisconsin State Fair. Other youths exhibit arts and crafts such as woodworking and photography at both the Waukesha County and Wisconsin State fairs.

Barb Jones, a 4-H leader who owns a farm in the Town of Vernon, comes from a long line of 4-H members.

“We're a fourth-generation 4-H family. I've been in 4-H since I was a kid,” she said.

Jones's three children - 18-year-old twins Brody and Brianna and 12-year-old Brooklyn - have shown sheep, chicken and rabbits at the State Fair.

This year, Brooklyn's rabbits will enter the hopping competition, where they can participate in events including agility, long jump, high jump, and crooked course.

Jones said that State Fair animals are judged on aspects such as weight and appearance.

“It's kind of like the Westminster Dog Show,” she said.

Preparing livestock and rabbits for the State Fair showing requires lots of hard work and dedication. To ensure they are not overweight or underweight, for example, animals’ food must be weighed on a scale before mealtimes.

Jamie Udulutch, a dairy leader for the Brookfield Blazers 4-H club and Pewaukee resident, has also passed down her love of the organization to her daughters. Oldest daughter and former club member Brittany, 22, enjoyed participating in the organization so much that she majored in animal sciences at UW-River Falls. Brittany now works as an intern for Como Park Zoo in Minneapolis.

Daughter Emily, 18, is currently majoring in dairy science at UW-River Falls.

Although many 4-H kids involved in agricultural and animal projects live on farms and in rural areas, others live in urban areas.

Not owning livestock is not a barrier to showing State Fair animals.

For example, programs such as Horseless Horse allow youths who do not own a horse to “borrow” one to show at the Fair. The 4-H member does not have to pay fees for the animal’s care.

The Blazers, along with several other local 4-H clubs, show cattle from Cozy Nook Farm in Waukesha. The family farm, operated by Tom and Joan Oberhaus and son Charlie, milks about 70 dairy cows, said Udulutch.

In March, the Blazers hold a “cow-picking day” at the farm so the members can decide which animal they’d like to prepare to show at the county fair. Training and grooming a cow for show takes approximately five months, added the dairy leader.

“The biggest part is having a relationship with that animal,” she said. Because cows recognize scent, youth can help develop a bond by brushing them and walking with them. Showmanship is part of county and state fair judging criteria for livestock, and kids can develop that by spending quality time with their cow.

“We recommend that kids spend one hour a week per animal,” said Udulutch.

Jones feels that 4-H clubs teach kids valuable skills such as time management and helps instill qualities such as reliability.

Parents of 4-H kids, she added, are “raising a very responsible workforce for the future.”

Boling said that youths who join 4-H are more likely to be involved in their communities, and that there are local clubs tailored to fit many different interests.

“4-H is definitely a hidden gem, with so much more to offer than just animals,” he said. “We are working very hard to get the message out.”