The Carbon County 4-H Livestock Club may be one of the most active 4-H groups in our county - they're certainly the most visible at the annual Carbon County Fair. The vast majority of cows, pigs, chickens, lambs and goats displayed at the fair are raised by members of the 4-H Livestock Club.
This dedicated group of teens and pre-teens works year-round to prepare for the fair and learn the craft of raising livestock. During one of their last meetings before the fair, 4-H members took time this month to talk about their livestock projects, making sure the animals were tagged and discussing fair registration. This is a busy time of year for members. Larger animals need identification tags. Poultry growers need eye drops for their animals, to prevent infection. And every member must ensure that their animal is in good health before the fair begins.
The 4-H Livestock Club is open to area residents between the ages of 8 and 18. For many members, the work that they do represents a proud past - and the future - of farming.
Current club president Luke Graver, from Franklin Township, has been in the club for ten years. His mother is a club leader, and he can trace his family's 4-H membership back to his great-grandmother.
"I live on a farm, and I've always been in 4-H," he explained. "It's been in our family for generations." He currently raises market steers, breeding beef, market sheep, and market swine.
Treasurer Kathie Bond of Jim Thorpe also followed in her family's footsteps when she joined the Livestock Club. She joined with her two older brothers, and now breeds goats and poultry for 4-H. She enjoys attending the fair every year with her club friends, and working with the public at the fair.
"I like being able to hang out with other members. It's also nice to show the public what we can do with animals," she said.
Members caring for the largest animals receive their animals as early as November or December. Smaller animals, such as poultry, are assigned in May because they grow so quickly. The weeks following the start of projects are filled with feedings, care, and attention - and for the students caring for animals during the winter, that means trudging through the snow and ice to make sure their animals are fed and cared for.
"These kids are dedicated," said leader Deanna Cunfer. "This project really teaches responsibility."
While much of the club's work focuses on raising or breeding animals, each club member is also responsible for a project book. They must take part in seven educational activities or lessons each year, learning about their animals and agriculture. Members must also track the cost of raising each animal, including food prices, the cost of medicine, and any other expenses incurred while taking care of their animals. The focus isn't on making a profit - but recording costs does teach good business practices and math skills.
"It teaches responsibility," said Graver. "When you're out on your own, you have to know how to manage money. This teaches you how."
During monthly meetings, members also learn about other local fairs and agricultural events in the area. While many members don't show their animals outside of the fair, this gives them a chance to view other children's projects and learn more about agriculture.
"A lot of people don't realize where their food comes from. Some of these kids aren't farmers. Through 4-H, they're learning about farming and raising good animals," said leader Diane Miller-Graver. "They work really hard on their projects."
As the fair approaches, members are busier than ever preparing for the four-day event. Many 4-H members and volunteers will be at the fairgrounds to set up livestock pens before the fair begins. Leaders of the group, including Deanna Cunfer and her husband Dennis Cunfer, play an important role in organizing the fair each year. They also work closely with the county extension office to ensure that every member's animal is properly cared for and members receive appropriate advice.
"We appreciate all of the support the county gives us," added Cunfer.
This year's Carbon County Fair will take place August 11-15 from 3-10 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Stop by to see the animals raised by local 4-H members, and to learn more about the other branches of 4-H in Carbon County.
"The fair is growing. This year's [livestock] tents will be full," she promised.