Photo from left to right: Melanie Denault, Darrah de Vos, and Marissa Materi of the Deep Creek Dairy 4-H Club. (Photo contributed)

Friends & Neighbours: 4H combines learning and fun

By Leah Blain, Observer contributor

Gumboots are the fashion of the day. Members of the Deep Creek Dairy 4-H Club are paired up for a calf clipping competition at the de Vos farm. Among the group are 17-year-old Melanie Denault, Darrah de Vos, 14, and Marissa Materi, who will soon be turning 17.

As they wait for Erin Drydyk to judge the clipped calves, 4-H leader Joy de Vos asks the group, “What’s the biggest lesson?”

The answers basically come back to time management and being prepared with all the necessary equipment.

“I saw a lot of cooperation,” says Joy looking around at the group. “The most amazing thing is that not one of you complained. I can’t tell you how proud I am as a leader.”

Erin gives them a lot of feedback, going from calf to calf, telling them what was good and how to improve their scores when they’re competing at the various fairs.

This summer Melanie will be taking a little time off to go to Thailand with Girl Guides where they will volunteer at an elephant refuge. After that, it’s all about getting her animals ready to show.

“The weekend I get back we’re going to the Maple Ridge Fair. I’m going to show my calf and this is my first year showing poultry.”

This year Melanie and her sister got Nigerian dwarf goats and Melanie is planning to show her goat in the Salmon Arm Fair.

“Right now the goats are on our deck. We used to have the barbecue there but the goats live there now.”

Darrah will also do some traveling this year, but her trip is a 4-H exchange with a club in Ontario.

“We usually do a fun day, a community service day, and we have a lot of educational days. When they fly over here we do the exact same thing.”

The fun here will include a houseboat and the community service will be trail-building.

Marissa’s time is divided between army cadets (second year) and 4-H (fifth year).

“I absolutely love working with livestock. It’s something I’ve grown up around, living on my dad’s farm. Even when he passed, I wanted to continue. I feel it could be a future career.”

She is indeed passionate about poultry, pulling out her phone to show pictures of her hens and rooster, explaining that they have their individual personalities. But Marissa is equally passionate about cadets and veers into stories of her European trip where she visited historical sites pertaining to Canadian battles.

Her summer will be working at Tim Hortons and her future will either be in the agriculture industry or the army.

“I’m on the fence. I’m better suited to the ag (agriculture) industry. I could join (the army) as a reservist and work part time…I see myself working either with poultry or dairy – those are the major things I have experience with.”

She describes 4-H and cadets as the two major pillars of her life.

“I would recommend cadets to anyone for leadership and of course, hard skills like orienteering, map and compass survival skills. Cadets helps with hard skills; 4-H helps you develop as a person, it builds confidence. I’ve definitely learned to work under pressure and it’s helped my public speaking skills.”

While Melanie and Darrah look forward to their summer trips and Marissa to her new job, they will still be busy with their animals, getting them ready to show. It takes a year to get them ready. Every week they put in several hours of training (including walking the calves around the farm getting them used to being in a halter), keeping track of everything in their record books, and cleaning the stalls. For 4-H members, the fairs are the summit of their countless hours of hard work.

“I love showing the cows and I like going to the fairs,” says Darrah. “They’re a lot of fun. I haven’t placed well but it’s fun anyway.”

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