Since February, Alex Meyerhoff, Emily Jimenez and Isabelle Cialone from San Bruno 4-H have spent every day with their goats, feeding them, walking them and learning to pose them for show.
“It’s a very big time management thing, which is one of the biggest things I’ve learned raising large animals, how to manage my time,” said Meyerhoff who first got involved in 4-H in the third grade, first raising chickens, then turkeys and eventually goats. “I got into it pretty quickly and I haven’t stopped since.”
Like Meyerhoff, Jimenez also started out with chickens, partly inspired by Meyerhoff who introduced Jimenez to 4-H after the two met in Girl Scouts. From there, they befriended Cialone and the trio became close inside and out of the pin.
Their friendship has bolstered their showmanship in many ways. Meyerhoff said they take pride in seeing their friends succeed, especially knowing they’ve offered pointers from their years of experience raising six lambs to date.
Cialone’s first time raising a goat was for last year’s county fair and, despite being new to the ropes, she took Reserve Grand Champion. This year was Jimenez’s first time raising a goat thanks to the support of Cialone and Meyerhoff. She also earned herself a ribbon her first go around, this time as Reserve Champion for her class.
“I wasn’t expecting it. I knew he would do pretty well in market but it was an unexpected turn of events,” Jimenez said.
The camaraderie goes beyond their friendship too, they agreed. Before any competition or during down time, they said 4-H’ers from chapters all over the county will often share pointers and friendly chatter. And those who have aged out of the programs are known to return to the fair to also lend a helping hand.
“It’s really nice to see that sense of community. Even though it is a competition everyone just wants to help each other,” Cialone said.
When not caring directly for their animals, the trio said they enjoy talking with the younger children who stroll through. It’s clear, they agreed, that many have never had the opportunity to see farm animals up close.
Cialone said she often sees herself in the younger children who wander in. She first became aware of livestock programs when visiting a fair in Iowa with her grandparents. Eventually she found her way to San Bruno 4-H, a program she had no idea existed in her community.
“It reminds me of myself and it’s really rewarding to hear all their questions. It’s a very unique experience and not something they’ll see everyday,” Cialone said.
That distance means many in the county are also unfamiliar with how to interact with undomesticated animals, giving 4-H participants the opportunity to teach onlookers about animal body language, Meyerhoff said, noting “each animal is different and you have to be very gentle with them.”
Makayla Arvin, the fair’s assistant livestock coordinator, said livestock programs offered through groups like 4-H teach young people important lessons about responsibility by empowering them to take care of another living creature other than themselves.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to deal with animals, get hands-on with animals that are not exactly like a dog or a cat, they’re livestock,” Arvin said. “We have great kids here that are all super responsible and are going to be great leaders once they grow up and go into what I call the real world.”
Arvin grew up going through the programming herself, spending most of her time with larger livestock like cows and hogs. But unlike more rural parts of California, Arvin said that experience is especially rare across San Mateo County and the greater Bay Area resulting in kids coming to livestock programming through word of mouth.
Those who do find their way to raising livestock often end up hooked, she said. Recognizing how much the kids care, Arvin said she and the rest of the livestock team were eager for a full return where kids get to show off their animals, receive feedback from longtime professionals and sell their animals at auction.
Two years of COVID-19 restrictions forced the fair barn to alter the way animals were shown and auctioned off. The 2020 fair was canceled due to safety concerns, resulting in a virtual and drive-thru show and auction. Then in 2021, only large animals were welcomed back.
“Getting them the opportunity to come back here and have the ability to show their animals was our main focus so we did everything we could to get them back here to have the ability to show what they learned,” Arvin said. “[It’s about] getting the kids in here and working with them and showing them how great this program is and giving them the opportunity to just shine. Most get addicted and come back year over year.”
Like Arvin hoped and worked toward, this year, the barn was in full swing with livestock of all sizes from cattle to little chicks welcomed back. After months of work and a week of showmanship competitions, the 4-H’ers will be saying goodbye to their livestock and the barn is about to close its doors again.
“It will definitely be a little sad but I think it’s really worth it,” Cialone said. “I know that my hard work paid off.”
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