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Partners in prime

Fair livestock competition brings siblings together

Liz Forster

Dawson Baucke gets a kiss from one the steers he will show at this year’s Routt County Fair. Baucke was showing his family’s livestock at a petting zoo.

Dawson Baucke gets a kiss from one the steers he will show at this year's Routt County Fair. Baucke was showing his family's livestock at a petting zoo.
John F. Russell

The 2015 Routt County Fair, celebrating its 101st year, will boast a record number of participants in its 4-H Junior Livestock competition and sale. In total, 175 animals raised by 320 4-H members will be auctioned to the highest bidders Saturday.

With numbers exceeding the show barn's capacity, even breeding projects will be moved outside during 4-H fair festivities, which run through Aug. 16 at the historic fairgrounds in Hayden.

The culmination of the week-long livestock shows and exhibitions is the Junior Livestock Sale. Livestock purchases benefit not only the 4-H members who raised the animals, but also contribute to the local economy.

In 2013, Colorado 4-H published a study explaining how — between direct purchases and volunteer hours — 4-H projects across the state inject

$76.5 million into the Colorado economy.

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In another study from 2011, Tufts University compared the positive impact 4-H had on youth development to other youth-serving organizations.

The study concluded that, compared to their non-4-H peers, 4-H members were more likely to report better grades, were two times more likely to plan to go to college and were more likely to pursue careers in science, engineering and technology. Additionally, they were less likely overall to engage in risky behavior, 3.4 times more likely to contribute to their communities and 2.3 times more likely to exercise and be physically active.

For junior livestock participants at the Routt County Fair, money from livestock purchases goes directly to the 4-H members who raised the animals, oftentimes landing in their college funds. 

"There’s no easier or better way to get local meat than directly from the kid that cared for it," Routt County Extension Director Karen Massey said.

But the true spirit of the fair is embodied less in the economic and social benefits and more in the community bonding woven together in the day’s competitions and the night’s festivities. A portion of that tradition comes from families working side-by-side.

To highlight that aspect of the fair, Steamboat Today features four of the many pairs of siblings involved in Routt County Fair's Junior Livestock program.

Jessica Diehl, 13, had always been curious about raising livestock through 4-H, despite her upbringing in a suburban area. Her mother's family owns Red Agnes Cattle on the Front Range, and her father grew up on a horse ranch, but Jessica had never had first-hand experience with ranch life.

Three years ago, when Jessica was in fifth grade, her best friend offered her that chance.

After a year of watching Jessica raise her pigs, Jessica's younger sister, Sophia, 11, also jumped on the 4-H bandwagon. That year, 2014, Sophia raised chickens and was crowned reserve grand champion in the chicken category.

This year, the sisters have combined efforts to raise their pigs at Yampatika's Legacy Ranch.

"During the school year, we'll leave the house early and stop here on our way," Jessica said. "We make sure the water isn't frozen and that the pigs have enough bedding to keep warm. Later that night, we come back. We have to be responsible to make sure that they're healthy."

Part of their time at the barn has been spent establishing trust with the pigs, which, as piglets, are skittish and uncomfortable around humans. The sisters do so by playing with the animals' legs as they fall asleep to acclimate them to human touch.

"If you don't gain their trust, you just are feeding them and giving them water," Jessica said. "When you gain it, though, five-year-old kids can go in there and play with them without anything happening. At the fair, they're friendly, unlike a pig that's never been worked with, which won't enjoy being around humans. These pigs don't experience that stress, because they've been exposed to it since they were piglets."

Compared to raising chickens, Sophia has found pigs more engaging. 

"You can't do much with chickens, but with pigs, you get to walk with them, pet them and brush them," Sophia said. "The commitment is also so much different. With pigs, you get the whole experience of the responsibility of living on a ranch."

Part of the responsibility of housing their animals at Legacy Ranch is education and community service. 

"With Legacy Ranch, we get a place to raise our animals that we wouldn't otherwise have," Jessica said. "I think the most fun part of it, though, is having to do the education hours and community service. We get to see the faces of younger kids in the community when they realize how big a pig actually is. I love getting to share everything I do with other people."

For Lauren and Autumn Hilley, yanking large livestock around doesn't quite cut it.

Instead, the 12- and 14-year-old sisters, who live just south of Milner, opted to care for small animals when they joined 4-H four and six years ago, respectively, opening wide a door for success.

Their accomplishments at the fair were not immediate as they navigated through years of raising chickens, rabbits, dogs and goats. During that time of experimentation, Autumn and Lauren discovered their niches — Lauren with dogs and Autumn with rabbits, although both show rabbits and chickens.

"It's a huge commitment for dogs, but I really like that commitment," said Lauren, who attends a dog training class each week with her dog, Winston. "Training and showing is a great chance for owners and dogs to bond."

As a fourth-year dog handler, Lauren will present her dog off-leash during the rally and obedience events. With the chickens, rabbits and dogs she'll bring to fair this year, she hopes to repeat as tops in the showmanship classes and the final round-robin, which is for kids who took first and second place in the showmanship class.

Older sister Autumn has also seen her share of success at fair. Two years ago, she also won showmanship and round-robin classes with both her rabbits and chickens. She loves raising rabbits but is looking to expand beyond small animals next year.

"Rabbits are easy to handle and fun to cuddle with," said Autumn, who will bring her Rex breed of rabbit, Cece, to the fair this year, along with the five other rabbits she and her sister will show. "I'd like to get a horse to show, since 4-H is a huge horse class. With horses, it's not really about winning, but more about just working with the animals. I also want to try lamb next year."

In addition to the livestock aspect of 4-H, Autumn has also participated in the vet science classes for the past two years and hopes to participate in the shooting project next year.

Unlike the Diehl sisters, Clark residents Will and Tyler Anderson grew up embedded in the ranching community.

Their family raises cattle year-round, and the concrete of the Anderson's back patio is marked with the brands of other local ranchers. 

"We live in such a 4-H ranching community, that it's pretty hard to not get involved," said 15-year-old Will, who also works for another ranch in Clark. "Throughout all our years, we've done some type of 4-H activity, whether its roping, steers or just helping out the local 4-H clubs." 

The brothers started with 4-H years ago, caring for pigs, initially. For the past five and four years, respectively, Will and Tyler have cared for steers, preparing them to be judged at the fair.

"You have to keep your eyes on the judge all the time," said Tyler, 14. "These steers aren't always cooperative and can get wild."

Even without the additional stress of livestock competition at the fair, the brothers wrestled with their 1,200-pound steers at home, walking not much farther than three steps before having to yank at the rope cinched to the steers' heads and slap their backsides.

Will's steer, C-Brisket (pronounced Sea-Brisket), challenges his handler more than the other steers — a common characteristic among most of his steers.

"I always seem to get the crazy ones, and Tyler usually gets the calm ones," Will said, walking beside his brother at their ranch. "For some reason, I've found that the wilder ones … calm down when they're at the fair."

Two years ago, Will's wild steer found his composure just in time for the fair, and Will ended up winning reserve champion for showmanship.

"It's cool to see how the steers turn out as a product of our work at the end of the year," Will said. "We're scrambling at some points leading up to and at the fair, but other than that, it's neat to see how all the other kids from the communities we've grown up in did."

Thanks to members of both their immediate and extended families, 15- and 13-year-old siblings Dawson and Shea Baucke have 4-H in their blood. Their uncles and cousins all raised animals through 4-H, and their parents raised the siblings on a swine and cattle ranch south of Steamboat. Between the two influences, the brother-sister pair had a path paved for them before joining 4-H four years ago.

Despite their similar initiation into 4-H, Dawson and Shea took different paths when it came to raising animals. Dawson preferred the control of halters on the steers, while Shea embraced the challenge of training a pig to move according to commands using only a crop. 

When Dawson transitioned to steers after two years of raising pigs, he did so in the most committed way possible — by breeding his own cattle rather than adopting a calf. The process begins with the artificial insemination of a cow, the birth of the calf and the adaptation of the calf to humans.

"You have to get tame with the calf before it gets big so it doesn't run off on you," Dawson said. "If you get used to them when they're little, it's easier to halter break when they're bigger and they can drag you around rather than the other way around."

In three years, a steer is ready to show and sell at the fair after gaining an average of 600 pounds in the six months preceding the event. Dawson currently has one steer to show at this year's fair and two for next year's. Their names are Danny, Justin and Andy. 

While her brother wrangles steers, Shea, like the Diehl sisters, acclimates her pigs to human interaction to prepare for one of her annual highlight events. 

"Fair is one of my favorite parts of the year," Shea said. "We get to camp there with a lot of our friends, can sleep with our animals and spend 24/7 with our pigs before showing them and the auction."

Regardless of the experience they have gained in the practical world of livestock production, both siblings have found the true payoffs in day-to-day life and human interactions — a takeaway 4-H strives to impart to its members.

"I've had to speak in front of a lot of people, especially when we meet new buyers," Shea said. "So I've had to learn presentation skills. Plus, I've made a lot more friends through 4-H."

For Dawson, 4-H might have a place in his future college plans, but for now, he is enjoying the contributions he can make to others through his livestock.

"I really like how involved in the community 4-H helps me get," Dawson said. "When I was little, all the older 4-H members helped me learn, and now, I get to return the favor and help the younger members. I enjoy being able to do that."