In early February, Joy Smith 15, got the 85-pound calf the day it was born.
Even then, she had her sights set on the Cleveland County Fair. During livestock competition at the big regional event, she planned to show the animal in front of a judge.
But she had much to do in coming months.
A tenth grader at Burns High School, Joy is among 21 young people ages 8 to 18 participating in the Cleveland County 4-H Dairy Steer program.
In the project, five local dairy farmers provide calves to 4-H members who take responsibility for their animals – the feeding, grooming and training necessary for competition at the fair on Oct. 6. A $100 program entry fee covers the calf and such things as medications and vaccinations for the animal.
“The fair is a huge thing for these young people,” said Annie Thompson with 4-H program support in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. “They put months of work into working with these animals. It’s such a character builder for them.”
An only child, Joy grew up on a farm near Casar in northern Cleveland County. She’s planning to major in English in college and a career outside farming.
Still, she joined the 4-H club and signed up for agriculture classes in school.
“Someday I’ll inherit the family farm,” said Joy. “I need to learn how to do all this stuff.”
When she picked up her calf in February she named it “Babe.” Every morning before school she got up early to feed the calf with a baby bottle. She repeated the process after school.
After weaning the calf off the bottle Joy began feeding it grain. And with the fair always in the back of her mind she started the training.
It was process she knew well. Twice before, she’d shown calves at the county fair. She knew about the stress – hoping her animal didn’t pitch a tantrum at the last minute and being aware of a judge’s stare.
At first, Joy’s new calf acted a little wild. But over time, as they walked together, the animal mellowed.
“You have to have control,” she said. “You don’t want them to be crazy.”
As Oct. 6 nears, Joy feels good about her calf, now weighing around 450 pounds.
“I’m really proud of him,” she said. “He’s the best one I’ve ever had.”
Taking on a responsibility like this is “a big commitment,” said Joy. “It’s all hard work, but real exciting.”
She knows things have changed at the fair’s livestock exhibit. At the 2012 fair, her proudest moment was when a man in a wheelchair stopped to pet her calf. That can’t happen this year and “it’s sad,” Joy said. “I like to see people happy. But it’s just something they (fair officials) have to do.”
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