Minnesota fair program pairs calves with kids

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Holstein steer calves were busy chewing their cud and watching passersby inside the beef barn at the Nobles County Fair Thursday morning.

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Some of the 24 New Vision Co-op Calf Program exhibitors include Maddie Ruesch (from left), Madeline Wagner, Claire Hoffman, Haley Ruesch, Lexy Ruesch, Beau Loosbrock, Blake Madison, Paige Madison and Brody Loosbrock. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Holstein steer calves were busy chewing their cud and watching passersby inside the beef barn at the Nobles County Fair Thursday morning.

Their day in the spotlight is today -- this morning, in fact -- as their owners, 24 Nobles County 4-H’ers, parade them through the show ring inside the former horse barn on the fairgrounds in Worthington.

The co-op calf program was launched in Nobles County eight years ago thanks to New Vision Cooperative. The co-op provides all of the feed and some of the education for 4-H members, many of whom might not otherwise have a chance to experience raising and showing cattle.

Take the trio of Ruesch sisters from rural Round Lake, for example. They live on an acreage and have a farm a mile down the road where they can keep their co-op calves.

Haley and Lexy Ruesch showed their first co-op calf six years ago, while their younger sister, Maddie, is a five-year co-op calf exhibitor.
During the past six years, Lexy said they have learned a lot about how to take care of animals.


“We don’t have the set-up to have our own beef cattle,” said Haley, who also leases beef animals from Cunningham Farm to show in 4-H.

Since each of the sisters has a co-op calf, they generally coordinate who is on chore duty, but they all work to get the animals ready for the fair.

Each of the 4-H members in the program received their calf in April, when it weighed between 220 and 270 pounds. Today, the cattle are tipping the scales at more than 600 pounds each.

Unlike the traditional beef show, where 4-H’ers might spend a lot of money for high-quality show stock, the co-op calf program puts everyone on the same playing field, said Haley. The judge, instead of looking at beef traits in the show ring, is talking to the 4-H’ers about their calf, watching how well the 4-H’er and animal work together and taking a look at the rate-of-gain results on each of the animals.

“New Vision kind of takes the competitiveness out,” said Haley, adding that there isn’t a state fair trip for the calves entered in the co-op calf project. “A lot of counties don’t have a program like this.”

For many of the 4-H exhibitors, these animals have become pets. Spectators may see a kid leading their young steer through the show ring, but these 4-H’ers see Maverick, Denver, Louie, Arnie and a host of other fondly-named cattle.

Hannah Henning of the Grand Prairie Rockets 4-H Club says her steer is just like a big kid.

“He blows bubbles in water and plays in mud puddles,” she said, adding, “he’s not a morning cow” because he doesn’t want to get up when she’s ready to take him for his morning walk.


Henning is participating in the co-op calf program for the first time since joining 4-H three years ago. Though her family raises beef cattle, they are production animals, not show quality, she said.

Madeline Wagner also has beef cattle on her farm. While she is showing a spring calf for Bullerman Angus, her co-op calf, Arnie, is owned by her.

“I like showing cattle -- it’s fun,” she said. By joining the co-op calf program, she was able to tour the New Vision feed mill and learn more about raising livestock in general.

Wagner said her co-op calf has taught her responsibility.

“I walk him and I wash him and I set up his feet and get him used to the show stick and the halter,” she said.

All of the girls learned it takes a lot of hard work to teach their haltered co-op calf to walk alongside them.

“It’s better to start walking them when they’re 200 pounds than when they’re 600 pounds,” said Henning.

“They usually like to kick up their feet and run,” noted Wagner, while Haley Ruesch said, “They like to get frisky.”


Of course, all of the exhibitors are hoping their calf doesn’t get frisky in the show ring this morning.

Many of the co-op calf exhibitors will say goodbye to their calves at the end of the fair on Sunday. The 4-H’ers have the option of purchasing their animal at market rate or selling it to the high bidder.

“During fair week there are different bidders that come through,” said Lexy Ruesch. Those bidders, all local farmers, buy the calves, take them home and raise them to market weight.

Maddie Ruesch said it can make for an emotional day for kids who get attached to their pet calves.

“You raise them for a purpose -- that’s how I think of it,” said Haley Ruesch. “Also, you get another calf next year.”

Looking ahead to next year is just what New Vision Co-op likes to hear.

“Our main goal is to keep livestock at the fair -- and to help teach kids about production agriculture,” said Darren Ponto, New Vision’s quality assurance manager.

The co-op calves can be found along one wall of the beef barn at the Nobles County Fair. Look for the New Vision sign hanging on the wall above them. The beef show begins at 8 a.m. today.

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