At the Fall Fair, a 4H leader leans over a rail outside the show ground, eyes glued on the four finalists and their steers. The judge was taking his time.
The finalists, all girls, were competing in the senior showmanship class. All four look relaxed and confident beside the 1000- to 1500-pound steers they had come to show, giving the judge a tough choice to make.
Most of these 4H Club members started working with their animals eight or 10 months ago, shortly after they had been weaned. Over a winter of monthly 4H Club meetings, they learned to feed, groom, and look after the basic health of their steers.
Today, they have groomed the animals to look their best, and nudged their steers rear legs with long show sticks so that they stand in the best-looking stances.
Some 4H showmen will choose to auction their animals after the show contest. Steers typically go for $1.50 a pound, but a champion could go for twice that.
In this tense final round, the judge finally decided to throw in an extra challenge. The finalists were asked to take someone else’s steer and reset it.
The finalists work as quickly as the big steers will allow, and at last the judge has an answer—Ruth Hamblin of the Quick Community 4H Club will take home best senior showman.
The annual Fall Fair in Smithers is the end of the season for many 4H kids in the Bulkley Valley—it’s where members doing beef, swine, sheep, diary and other livestock classes get their end of the year 4H achievements.
But livestock isn’t the only 4H project in town.
“Lots of people think 4H is just agriculture, but there’s tons of non-livestock projects,” said Vicki Hamblin, Ruth’s sister, and another accomplished member of the 4H.
Aside from the 4H livestock projects, which range from steers to rabbits, Vicki has also taken on projects like photography and scrap-booking.
While 4H kids spend winter studying cattle anatomy, others might do a small engine repair class and learn the parts of a motorbike.
Still, across B.C., horse and beef projects are the most popular.
Scott Dawson, a Topley 4H member for the last three years, came to the fair with Hershey, a 16-month-old, 1400 pound steer.
But Dawson won’t sell the cattle because, he explained, it’s not from his farm. The Topley 4H made a special arrangement so that Dawson could take responsibility for the animal while it stayed on another farm. That went so well that now his family is jumping in in a big way—they’ll have their first steer next year.
Along with the chance to show and maybe sell a steer, Dawson said he’s met lots of new people through 4H.
That’s something echoed by Wendy Siemens, beef leader with the Topley 4H. “They make life-long friends,” she said. “I know I have.”
The Topley Club, at 53 years old, is one of the longest-running in the area, she said.
“There’s a lot of old alumni kicking around this valley,” she said, adding that it’s because of the great families behind it that the Topley 4H has done so well.
Dawson’s future plan to sell a steer is a privilege, Siemens said, and not the focus of the monthly 4H meetings. But if children do decide to sell, she said, they have to get ready early, preparing budgets for feed, grain, and animal doctor bills.
Many choose to donate two per cent of their sale profits back to the club, she added, and many invest the money into another animal.
Speaking as an official 4H Ambassador, Vicki Hamblin said the 4H club is about learning leadership, personal development, knowledge and citizenship.
But for herself personally, Hamblin said she likes 4H for the chance to learn about agriculture and husbandry, as well as a chance to set big goals and achieve them.
Both Vicki and her sister Ruth Hamblin were 4H Ambassadors for the first time this year, travelling to the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver to help with everything from hay-hauling contests to info booths and 4H trivia contests.
That kind of travel is another reason to join 4H, said Vicki—members who do well in local competitions can go on to events in the region and across the province.
Vicki and Ruth took part in a 4H careers program that brings older members to places like the Fraser Valley and Okanagan to learn what it takes to run a major agriculture operation.
Even at monthly 4H meetings, leader Wendy Seimens said that children learn to pretty well run the show. They set the agenda, take minutes and manage club funds, she said.
“We’re there to help mould and direct a little bit, maybe open their eyes to a few things. But when it comes time to actually pass motions and spend money, it’s all them,” she said.
For both Vicki and Ruth Hamblin, this is their last year as regular 4H Club members. Ruth will soon be off to university and, at 20, Vicki is in the most senior level of 4H. But when asked if they might like to be future 4H leaders, both quickly said yes. Ruth explained why.
“The impact that people have made on my life through 4H—I want to be able to give that back one day.”