Our daughters first time showing beef breeding heifers at a county fair is fast approaching or might be completed by the time you’re reading this column, but the most important part is that they will have done it, fulfilling a dream that started in a small county fair livestock barn many years ago when they were preschoolers.

Those dreams that turned into a goal: show beef at the county fair.

Let it be known: We’re novices. We’re not livestock people. We’re not stock show folks of any kind. We don’t live on a ranch or raise any livestock … unless Miss A’s herd of two guineas pigs, a.k.a. rodents, count for anything.

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We’re building a new home on an old farmstead where the girls dream of creating their own “farmette” or hobby farm. For the time being, we’re small-town dwellers in a rental, 26 miles from my uncle’s cattle. The upheaval of our late 2019 and all of 2020 dashed the goal of having the girls start with heifers. This year, both daughters, ages 11 and 13, have worked with Hereford heifers since winter and almost daily since late spring, under the supervision of my uncle.

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We learn as we go and hope the girls gain an array of skills from the experience of caring for and showing heifers this summer. We've also driven a lot of back and forth miles to the farm along with weeks of summer sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's farmhouse.

Anika and Elizabeth Pinke listen to Levi Elliott demonstrate 4-H beef clipping details on one of his animals on his farm on June 16, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Anika and Elizabeth Pinke listen to Levi Elliott demonstrate 4-H beef clipping details on one of his animals on his farm on June 16, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Anytime you prepare to make your debut, whether it’s in a county fair show ring, in a sport, music recital, sales pitch, job interview or speech to a class, it’s nerve-wracking.

To calm nerves and learn new skills, I signed the girls up for a nearby county’s beef showmanship and clipping clinic. I called Traill County Extension Agent Jill Lagein to register them for the June 16 event, hosted by Traill County beef producer and former 4-H member Levi Elliott at his Galesburg, N.D., farm.

Lagein told me she organized the event because she wanted to highlight the passion she has for large animals from her own 13 years in 4-H.

“When I got hired for this job, I knew seriously five people in Traill County and when those five people found out I was hired, they offered to help me however they could. With how strange last year was, I wanted to help 'freshen' the youth up so to say. Traill County, along with neighboring counties, had county fairs that looked much different than normal. Why not help area 4-H’ers dust off the rust?” she said.

Only two other kids attended, Lane and Keely Risovi, Traill County 4-H members. The four 4-H members had a personal mentoring evening with Levi Elliott. By the end of the evening, I saw a sparkle in my girls’ eyes. It clicked for them and suddenly they weren’t as nervous to show their heifers at our upcoming fair but had more passion and excitement for their heifers and the show experience. Levi offered to help our girls again and drove a couple of hours round trip to come this past week for a few more hours of preparation.

Lagein shared with me after the beef demonstration event that she was pleased youth wanted to attend.

Levi Elliott of rural Galesburg, N.D., is a former 4-H member and raises beef cattle. He has shown cattle in local, regional and national livestock shows and now mentors 4-H members. With Traill County Extension, he hosted a beef clipping and showmanship demonstration at his farm on June 16, 2021. Anika and Elizabeth Pinke, 4-H members from nearby Grand Forks County, are in the forefront. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Levi Elliott of rural Galesburg, N.D., is a former 4-H member and raises beef cattle. He has shown cattle in local, regional and national livestock shows and now mentors 4-H members. With Traill County Extension, he hosted a beef clipping and showmanship demonstration at his farm on June 16, 2021. Anika and Elizabeth Pinke, 4-H members from nearby Grand Forks County, are in the forefront. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
“This is workshop three of four that I scheduled but the first class I held. The first two, no one was interested in, and that was discouraging.”

Consider this a kickoff of a few upcoming 4-H related columns this summer, with more shared stories from the county fair experience, learning in the barn and 4-H lessons. I am not far from the farm but I recognize my girls are one generation further from agriculture if we don’t bring them a little closer. 4-H helps build that connection.

This week, rather than drift away from our ag roots, we're leaning into agriculture, relishing in 4-H experiences and skills and bringing heifers to the county fair, something that hasn’t been done in our family in 40 years. Thank you, leaders, helpers, Extension staff, volunteers and cheerleaders who help all kinds of kids find their passions . . . and sparkle . . . including youth new to livestock who want to learn to show heifers at a local county fair.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.