Now that winter has set in, 10 p.m. has become a bittersweet time of day for me. It’s not visions of sugar plums that interrupt our winter’s nap, but instead, it is our time to make one final trip to the barn to pitch box stalls and feed hay.
It’s not a typical barn, but a specialty barn that houses special cows. It just might be the kind of barn that some dream about and others would dread.
Upon entry into their domain, you can usually find contented cows chewing their cuds. Often a cat sleeps peacefully in the corner of one of the stalls and the dog happily follows our every movement.
The plastic on the barn sides inhales and exhales with the wind and at other times reveals the sounds of snow or rain. In the reverie of this barn and the time of day, each cow exchanges their typical greeting with me.
Some stand still and wait for a touch, while others demand attention. There are few who are quite aloof and others are only anxious for that new flake of hay.
All in all, this opportunity is one that very few will experience or understand. Yet it has purpose in my daily ritual.
My husband is absolutely mesmerized that his childhood dream has become reality and he perceives this nightly vigil as payback for his good fortune. For me, it reflects the fact that my entire life has been centered around cows and cow people.
As I linger on the pitchfork, my thoughts focus on beginnings, endings, and change. These are the constants in one’s life and during this special season, we tend to reflect on them just a bit more intensely.
In my position with dairy extension, I am pleased to work with dairy youth programs. That opportunity also yields the responsibility to shape the vision of another generation. In the face of less than positive economic times and budget cuts, these challenges seem to nudge me into more creative programming for our dairy youth.
With the help of an active dairy advisory committee, colleagues, parents, and the volunteers, we have come up with “new and improved” versions of our traditional programs (judging and quiz bowl), yet we have added two new ones.
In this column, I am pleased to share updates with you. There is always room for improvement in any program so our state dairy judging contest will now be split into three separate age divisions — junior (8-11), intermediate (12-14) and senior (15 and up).
Juniors will answer two questions relative to each class. Intermediates will present two sets of reasons with notes and seniors will give two sets without notes. Although linear evaluation is an important teaching concept, it will not be a part of the state contest.
In my travels, I have made mental notes and asked questions about how other states manage their dairy judging activities and these new changes are a part of that research. It seems that we need to start sooner teaching reasons, but without intimidating them.
Of course, the first and primary step is to teach kids how to evaluate cattle. There will be two clinics for judging and reasons. One is geared for coaches and older, more experienced judges and one for beginners.
The judging clinic held in March of this year was very successful with over 100 attending. In 2009, it is hoped that we can provide more focus on individual needs and the teaching methods that will encourage learning.
Our Ohio Dairy Quiz Bowl and Jeopardy brings dairy scholars into the limelight. This activity is great entertainment for anyone who sits in the audience. With great success at the national level in Louisville, Ky., the state of Ohio can boast to having some of the very brightest.
There is however, the need to encourage and support younger members to continue as seniors. Multi-county teams are permitted and with more creative planning, this event could have a makeover for 2009. Stay tuned for more details.
Now to the new programs. Actually, dairy camp is not exactly a new concept but it is back by popular demand. The camp will be geared for youth 13-14.
It will include information on value added dairy products, clipping and showmanship, scientific experiments, and hands on activities. This one-day event will take place in July at the OSU campus.
Our other new program is not only new, but one of a kind. Collaborating with ADA Mideast, we are creating the junior version of their very popular “People Behind the Product” workshop.
The focus is on improving communication skills and exposing attendees to information and strategies on how to effectively deal with the public in their schools, communities and at county fairs.
This is an exciting venture and many key resource people are already on the program. It will take place March 28 in the new Nationwide/Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center.
In all the dairy 4-H programs, OSU students will be participating in key leadership responsibilities as they make the transition from 4-H alumni to 4-H leader.
Last but not least, our 4-H Animal Science Web site has had a complete makeover. It has taken nearly a year, but the wait is about over. The graphics are updated and more appealing — plus information has been organized for greater efficiency.
From my office, it is also easier to enter information. At first, the usual customers may encounter some challenge in finding information, but once you learn the system, you will be pleased. Here is the link: http://4hansci.osu.edu/dairy.htm.
Beginnings, endings, and change — all are a part of life and I’ve seen my fair share of them since my first 4-H dairy project in Clark County.
Yet today, I’m still enjoying kids, cows, the industry, and the priceless opportunity to teach.
And in 2009, I am even resolving that I will appreciate those 10 p.m. trips to the barn.
If you would like to review all the dairy 4-H programs and dates for 2009, e-mail Bonnie Ayars, email@example.com, or phone 614-688-3143.
(The author is an Extension dairy program specialist at Ohio State University.)