VIRGINIA BEACH — The idea of a 10 year old taking care of a 740-pound animal would seem bizarre to an outsider’s eye – especially with the amount of responsibility and accountability a child would have to possess.
The animal you raise comes first, regardless of the weather, holiday or your health. I remember what it was like to learn this as a member of 4-H.
It was early in the morning, and it was time to feed up. My steer had just arrived at his new home. He was scared because he hadn’t been around many people. I was scared because I’d never been around a steer.
I had to gain his trust, so I went into the stall and sat quietly in the corner. The aroma of hay in my hand spread across the stall. Minutes later, a sniffing nose got closer, and then a tongue reached out to get a taste of hay.
There was a progression of getting him used to a touch, then to a brush and then to train him to walk on a rope halter. Repeating this day after day taught me diligence and perseverance.
And then came the first time on a rope in the yard. I was scared. We took a few steps, and he bolted, dragging me across the yard. He got away. Tears streamed down my face.
The process continued, until he finally learned to walk with me. May came. Many baths had occurred to groom my steer for the show at the end of the month.
Finally, show day arrived. My steer, Bud, was ready, and so was I. We had worked hard to get to this point.
He weighed in at 1,410 pounds, and I weighed 68 pounds. The top of my head came up to his shoulders, and we were a sight in the show ring. The judge made his decision – reserve champion of the entire show.
Older members of my club came up to me and told me how I inspired them. All the hard work had paid off, and the confidence it instilled in me has made me the person I am today.
For a decade now, 4-H has been an essential part of my life. I’ve even served as the president of the Virginia Beach 4-H Livestock Club to give back to younger members.
Participating in 4-H has taught me responsibility beyond measure. The amount of persistence that I have had to show has often times been very hard. But seeing that persistence pay off in my life has been valuable. It teaches you to always keep going, to “make the best better,” as the 4-H motto tells us.
Most of all, I have learned that being humble in my times of triumph and gracious when others come out on top will benefit me throughout my life.
My first steer inspired my family to start a 100-head Hereford cattle herd. As my projects developed, so did my aspirations of having more cattle and expanding our family grain farming operation to including cattle.
When I was 12, I went to my father and expressed the idea of wanting to use some of my saved money to buy cows. My intention at that time was to raise the cattle for show. I did this, and Coastal Cattle was born. My sister, Olivia, and I showed our 100 percent Hereford animals across the state, and, slowly, our herd increased.
Once I got to high school, the show circuit was harder to participate in due to my school activities. My family and I decided that we needed to expand our operation past the show cattle and start direct marketing our beef. We had many people asking if we produced beef for individual consumption.
The healthy sustainable food movement was gaining ground in our area. We knew this would be a great chance to educate the people in our community.
Living in Virginia Beach on a farm is rather an anomaly because our city has a population of about 450,000 people. We take for granted that we know where our food comes from, but we know not everybody does.
With the success of our retail beef market, I also have been able to expand the food education part of our farm to the Virginia Beach schools. We have been able to begin educational field trips to students, among other outreach efforts.
I plan to attend Virginia Tech in the fall to major in animal and poultry sciences and biology. Ultimately, I want to teach high school biology using our farm as a hands-on resource.
Vaughan is a 17-year-old senior at Kellam High School. This was adapted from two essays written for the 4-H Youth in Action Agriculture Pillar Award, which Vaughan received this month.
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