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Sweet Heifer Project Connects Youth to Angus

27 May 2009

US - In the “Thumb” of Michigan a group of cattle producers work diligently to ensure that youth that have the desire to learn about beef production and showing cattle have that opportunity.

Long-time Angus breeders Doug and Vicki Meiburg are two of the producers who have been involved with the Thumb Jackpot Show, which has moved around the 7-county region for the past 18 years as a way to give youth a “practice show” before their county fairs.

“We hire a nationally known judge from out of state to teach our youth about showing and showmanship,” Doug explains. He says anywhere between about 120-160 head of cattle and between 90-120 youth participate in the annual event that takes place in a different county each spring.

In addition to the Thumb Jackpot Beef Show, the group added Beef Blast to the 4-H and FFA Thumb Jackpot Beef Educational Program about five years ago as an educational endeavor that provides hands-on learning to the youth. Youth explore the life cycle of a steer from conception to the dinner plate during these educational programs. They learn first-hand about breeding, giving shots, balancing rations and carcass evaluation through field trips to various farms and beef industry businesses.

Sweet Heifer Donation

In Spring 2008, a donation to their scholarship fund was made from fellow Angus breeder Lee Sweet, Deckerville, Mich. Lee sold a heifer at his dispersal sale, with half of the proceeds designated to the Paul DeLong Memorial Scholarship that is part of the 4-H and FFA Thumb Jackpot Beef Educational Program and half to the Michigan Angus Auxiliary. Lee had been diagnosed with cancer and dispersed his herd in 2008. The jackpot committee decided to take the donated heifer one step further by purchasing the donated heifer to start a heifer program that would afford youth the opportunity to have a heifer to raise and then market her offspring to get the chance at the production side of the cow-calf business. Lee donated that first heifer, and the “Sweet Heifer Project” was created. Additional donations came from several other Angus breeders and businesses in the Thumb.

“I figured, ‘why not?’ It’s all for the kids, and it wasn’t going to bankrupt me,” Lee says a year later, after winning his battle with cancer. He adds that breeders in the Thumb make all breeds available, “but 90% of all the kids want Angus heifers, due to the promoting the Angus Association has done.”

By Fall 2008, six heifers had been awarded, Meiburg says. But there are criteria, according to Meiburg—the animals must come from breeders in the Thumb; the youth must be enrolled in a 4-H or FFA beef project; and an application must be completed and include a marketing plan for the future offspring of the potential award heifer.

Meeting the Criteria

Fifteen-year-old Darcy Lipskey read about the project in her local newspaper, and thought that project sounded ideal for her. She already had a beef background, as she and her parents, Dale and Janet Lipskey have a feedlot operation near Minden City, Mich., but a breeding heifer would be a new experience. She filled out the application, and two weeks later received the call that she was selected for the interview process.

Darcy says interviewing for FFA officer positions and state 4-H awards helped prepare her for the interviews, to an extent. Part of the interview included her marketing plan for the future progeny of the heifer she might receive.

“If it is a bull calf, I would castrate him, show him as a steer and sell him at the state sale or keep him as a bull to service the neighbor’s females and any I might add to my herd,” Darcy says. “I had two options for a heifer calf; donate her back to the program or keep her and add her to my herd.”

Darcy apparently said the right things, because two weeks after her interview, she brought Sweet Design Frontier 703, a bred Angus heifer to her family’s farm.

“Getting the news and bringing her home and watching her progressing and change has been the best part,” says an excited Darcy. She also adds that the different people she’s interacted with, including Lee Sweet have been incredible. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people. So many nice people always say if you have any problems, call me. I am very fortunate to have the people that are part of the program.”

“Mr. Sweet is a very amazing person for everything he has had to go through,” Darcy continues citing his illness and premature dispersal. “You always think nothing bad will ever happen to you or your family.”

“He’s always helping me and the other kids. I’ve learned it’s not all about you, but it’s about other people, and it’s good to learn that at my age.”

And that is a lesson Darcy has definitely applied. She has already made a difference in her own county. After bringing home her heifer, she realized that her county didn’t offer a breeding heifer show—just a show for market animals. She attended several 4-H council and fairboard meetings to make her case about the value of the breeding beef project and show. Due to Darcy’s efforts, this July the Huron Community Fair will have breeding heifer and cow-calf pair classes added to the competition.

Full Circle

Another factor of the project that Darcy has thoroughly enjoyed has been the Beef Blasts, the educational field trips that the youth in the Thumb can participate in. She says the trip to Michigan State University vet school and to visit an embryo transfer operation to see how embryo transfer is done was one of her favorite experiences. And long-term, Darcy predicts she’ll choose a career as a large-animal veterinarian or a beef farm manager.

“Each Beef Blast gets cooler, and one friend told they get better and better! This has been my best year and next year I could say the same thing,” proclaims the enthusiastic teen.

Although full of enthusiasm, she still deals with the chores and challenges of any producer, all while being a high school student and anticipating the birth of her first Angus calf. As Sweetheart was closing in on her calving date, Darcy said she would check her every night and weekend, and her schoolmates noted how tired she looked. But, that night-time checking paid off. Darcy was there at 11:45 p.m. on April 9, when a bull calf, Pedro, was born.

“I was there when she calved. It was very exciting for me to see Pedro up after the first hour and eating. I was very happy that her mothering instincts kicked in right away and she accepted him,” Darcy recalls. She’ll exhibit Sweetheart and Pedro this summer as a cow-calf pair at the county fair.

At the conclusion of last year’s first six Sweet Heifers, Doug Meiburg’s enthusiasm echoed that of Darcy’s for the Sweet Heifer Project. “This experience has been phenomenal,” he said. “We hope with the success of this program to have 20 ‘Darcies’ 10 years from now! And we hope they are all part of the beef business as adults.”

Sweet Endings

There are a lot of sweet happenings in the Thumb of Michigan. Lee Sweet beat his cancer and got back into the Angus business. He still is passionate about helping youth and keeping the Sweet Heifer Project going.

Doug and Vicki Meiburg along with other willing adult volunteers conducted the 18th Thumb Jackpot Beef Show in April this year.

And a very enthusiastic Darcy Lipskey has doubled her Angus herd with the addition of Pedro, a purebred Angus bull. Life is sweet after all.

TheCattleSite News Desk


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