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Bucket calves get many 4-H'ers started in agriculture

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP)--A small child leading a big calf around a show ring may look unremarkable, but it's not very safe.

"There has been, for instance, 1,400- to 1,500-pound cattle coming in, with a kid that's only 3 foot tall leading it around. And you don't know how that's going to go,'' said Dennis Trausch, Adams County beef superintendent.

Instead, 4-H parents and extension educators suggest children interested in showing cattle start with a tamer project: the bucket calf.

This is one project that the Heier family of rural Kenesaw knows well. All four Heier children--Deidra, Adam, Kory and Alex--have raised bucket calves over the years.

Kory, 12, entered a first-year bucket calf, a second-year bucket calf and a stocker feeder in the Beef Show at the fair recently.

Kory's first-year bucket calf was born in the time frame required by 4-H: Jan. 1-April 15. He bought it from a local farmer when it was still at the bottle-feeding stage. That's when Kory became the calf's adoptive mother, responsible for feeding it, cleaning it, making sure it got its shots and that it stayed generally healthy.

With a little help from his parents, of course.

"We go out and kind of check the health, just make sure they're doing OK, that there aren't any problems popping up that they might not know to recognize yet,'' said Keith Heier, Kory's father.

Parents are also there to answer questions their children have and to teach them things along the way, Keith and his wife, Pam, added.

"It's basically just the growing process with a little more supervision. A lot more learning is involved instead of just going out and buying one, raising one and showing it. It's a very good project,'' said Trausch, who has had five of his own children enter the bucket calf contest.

Everything he did with the calf, Kory chronicled in a record book, along with information about the calf's weight gain and the cost of everything. The record book is a big part of second-year bucket calf projects, when the calf's weight gain is very important. Any calf entered in the second-year bucket calf contest must have been entered the year before as a first-year bucket calf, so that its progress can be recorded over the two-year period.

Kory submitted this record book to the 4-H office as he was walking into an interview, he said. In the interview, a judge asked him lots of questions about the process of raising his calf and assigned him a number of points based on his understanding and memory of the information.

Kory and a lot of other 4-H'ers showed their bucket calves by leading them around the show ring or standing them still, as directed by beef judge Steve Kruse.

Kruse asked the 4- H'ers a few questions to test their knowledge of the animal and of the beef market, then watched and felt the animals before choosing a champion and reserve.

Points earned in the show ring were added to points earned in the interview and points from the quality of the record book itself to decide the overall winners.

By the time it's over, the bucket calf project has required a lot of time and energy, everyone said. However, the learning was called well worth the hassle.

Some years the 4-H'er makes money on the calf, some years he doesn't.

Kory said he had put a total of about $950 into this year's second-year bucket calf and expects to make about $920 from selling it.

This year, cattle prices have been down but feed prices have been up, the Heiers said. Kory said he planned to sell his second-year calf and stocker feeder to his grandfather after the fair.

Kory took Grand Champion honors with both his first- and second-year bucket calves. He was also named Grand Champion showman for the intermediate division.

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