Do you want kids who are confident?  Kids who are responsible, hardworking and reliable?  Are your kids able to communicate their future goals?  Do they openly share their experiences and express their questions and concerns? If you answered, “Yes!” to any of these questions, maybe your kids need a calf project! The hypothesis is that doing a good job of raising one, will set a pattern for raising the other.

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Dairy managers understand the importance of getting dairy calves off to a good start if they are to fulfill their potential later in life. The same is true of children.  The ultimate success is realized in dairy operations when young from both sides of the farm have the opportunity to work, learn and grow to their fullest potential….together!

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Raising a Calf brings Respect for All Ages and Stages

A united front. Dairy families wake together and work together and during those days there is a joining of different viewpoints and experiences that  teaches them early on that there are many ways to get to the goal and often it is better, easier and faster when all minds chip in to make a plan.  It is also where the legends begin: “When I was a kid, I remember the time …..”  Soon they will have their own stories to chime in with. For siblings, it’s a great way to have them teach and learn from each other. Getting an early start happens when they watch older kids working at home, training their calves and showing them. This builds respect and trust between all ages.

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Showring Success for Calves and Kids Starts at the Farm!

The work must be done first. For kids doing chores builds a repertoire of experience that will help them deal with whatever situation arises in the ring. For calves, the repetition and familiarity of working with their child handler further reduces the expectation of something unusual happening on show day. There is much to learn:  proper set-up; dealing with crowd noises; unfamiliar animals in nearby proximity. At the end of the day, there may still be problems.  The elusive trophy is not within reach.  Sometimes that means teaching your child about courage. That can be as simple as them learning from example and experience to say, “I will try again tomorrow!”

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Learning to Weather the Hard Times is a Base to Build on.

This is when parental courage must step in to avoid taking over the project in order to “guarantee” success.  When we as parents cover up a child’s work with our own, we are teaching them that their best isn’t good enough. You have to lose to appreciate winning.

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Let them learn from their mistakes. And then occasionally success may seem to come easily.  Success brings the other half of a valuable lesson: “Don’t let your victories go to your head or your failures to your heart!” Winning it all in year one, without putting in the effort can be a recipe for future failure.

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Practicing Grace Under Pressure

The first lesson.  “The Judge is always right!”  Kids learn that the final lineup is just one judge’s opinion, but it is the only one that counts on show day. Part of the showring learning experience is that great kids learn to walk in other shoes.  They see the competition from the judges’ perspective and realize they must stand out from the crowd.  They watch other kids and learn from them.  They watch new kids and give them help.  Great kids learn to keep smiling even when the animal is acting impossible. Great kids learn to appreciate when their calf is doing its best under unfamiliar conditions. There is always something to appreciate.  Finishing the class.  Being a gracious winner and, even more importantly, learning to be a gracious loser. Great kids are always considerate of the calf, and they always thank the Judge.

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Being Consistent is Good for Kids and Great for Calves

Consistently repeated routines of feeding, housing and handling build a firm foundation for future productive milking cows.  Calves learn to trust their human handlers, and this is invaluable when dealing with the events of their lives from breeding to calving to showing and all the myriad logistics of dairy cattle handling.  This nature of oft repeated and refined skills teaches kids too.  Over time, they learn how important it is to be consistent.  Whether it’s holding on to a halter or feeding their calf or clipping or training, kids learn that must be done with consistency. Even more important …. Never give in or give up.  This not only ensures success with your calf project, but it contributes to success in life as well.

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Setting goals and aiming for possibilities. Kids and Calves need benchmarks.

Every calf born has potential. From picking a name to hearing that name called in the showring, taking responsibility for a calf is a process that is great for the calf and the kid. From the first time around the barnyard with a halter, the process is one of excitement.  From the short term goal of drinking from a bottle to eating grain, to halter training …. And loading up for the Fair.

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Learning Good Judgment

Great kids learn early that they must focus on the calf. Depending on the teamwork between the kid and the calf they will enjoy the celebration and pride of achievement. Some are great at managing a frisky calf (overcoming the fear of being dragged), keeping heads up (calf and handler) and watching the judge.  Some just love the experience and find that is reward enough.  Furthermore, great kids learn from the whole process, which sets a good pattern to draw on in other areas of their life.  The same pattern setting is positive for calves too!

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Kids accepting responsibility.  Calves on an aggressive growth path.

It takes a year to earn the rewards of a well-trained and cared for show calf. Kids work 365 days to feed and prepare for that short viewing by a judge in the show ring.  It may seem inconsequential to have someone else feed your calf, clip your calf, train your calf and then step in with style and attitude to take the halter only on show day. But the consequences are enormous.  Lost opportunity for the child.  Lost opportunity for the farm to build new strengths.

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Kids who show calves learn how to handle themselves in public. We often hear how hard it is for anyone to speak in public.  Showing their own calf begins the process of learning how to become confident communicators.  The first time they are questioned by a calf Judge or an MC with a microphone, they are will build confidence. The first time they enter the showring at a local fair, they are in a non-threatening, supportive environment.  The “future farmers” class at our local fair has become a featured event, with competitors as young as three years old.  These partners in potential eagerly wait their turn to parade in front of the judge.  A kid-friendly MC gets down to their level.  With the questions about calf age, name and training taken care of, much is revealed to observers about the path this future dairy person took to winning a ribbon. We learn a lot from:  “Mom makes me do it!” to “Dad does the clipping!” The little calf handlers gain confidence in themselves and in the recurring event that will build their self-esteem and their calf-showing abilities. They may not be officially placed in these early events, but they do receive well-deserved recognition for a job well done! A cherished memory from Huntsdale goes back to when Andrew finished his first pre-4-H class. He walked out of the show barn and crossed through crowds on the fairgrounds to enter his calf in the “Pet Show”. He and his calf definitely stood out among the largely dog and cat turnout, and he earned a first place ribbon too!

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Learning Good Judgement

Competition is a fact of modern everyday life.  Too often, we try to shield our offspring from the disappointment or effort involved. Yes, you could buy a winning heifer.  You could take over the training or pay an acknowledged expert to do it.  Nothing positive is gained for the child from these scenarios, even if it does capture first place in the line. At the other extreme is the cop out which states, “Just have fun. That’s all that matters.” Once again, that doesn’t build skills. Later on avoiding stress and being in it for the fun won’t pull them ahead in job hunting or problem handling skills. There is only one way to compete.  Give 100%.

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Not only Training for Showring Success but Preparing for Success in Life too!

Ultimately the goal is to have a great milk cow.  Trophies and ribbons add color to the journey but, at the end of the day, the dairy business must take first place. That is why there are many young breeders who take justifiable pride in having bred and trained calves that helped finance a college education or gave them a start developing their own herd or both! Both kids and calves need to be trained in practical life skills. The logistics of calf training from chores to walking smoothly on a halter helps with this.  If we allow calves or kids to be unruly when they’re young, we can’t plead surprise when we have a teenager who is out of control.  Early training works for milking lines too.  Learning to obey, listen and follow rules works for children and calves. Make sure they receive the recognition for making their calf project something they can do well at and take responsibility for. Then, when they are out of sight of their parents, the lessons they have learned will see them through other choices.  That is the true reward of growing great kids and great calves.

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A Shout-Out to All Dairy Moms and Mentors!

There are many who leave their mark on our herds and our families because of their dedication to dairying. Thankful for others who help influence your kids.  Thankful for those who know calves.  Thankful for the Moms, who wrestled kids, diaper bags, and strollers so that “being at the show” was part of their young children’s life events. So that there is a picture record of the whole family supporting each other. Here again, a pat on the back from Mom is where they learn how great it is to encourage others.  It’s worth the long hours and missing actually seeing the classes, to come home from the show and hear a young voice say, “That was the best day ever!”

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The Bullvine Bottom Line

Congratulations to all those who recognize that our dairy future depends on our dairy youth – kids and calves together!!! Raising great calves means you’re giving them training that will prepare them for production as part of your growing herd. Raising great kids means you’re empowering their achievements and growing a family.  Raising both means you’re counting your dairy blessings and achieving dairy dreams!

 

 

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