Learning lifelong lessons and creating memories

Nostalgia set in as I watched my son prepare for his 4-H projects. I myself had a hard-hitting 4-H phase, but it was anything but typical.

My childhood home wasn’t in a housing estate, but it wasn’t country living either. In my mind, we had a lot of land for the animals. We even had a barn — all we needed was cattle to fill it.

I soon learned that my attempts to persuade my parents to allow me to care for a large animal fell short of local zoning laws. I was green with envy. My friend took a horse to the fair. She spent the whole week at the fairgrounds, even spending the night at the barn.

silver claws

There was a lot of moaning from me about life’s injustices, but absolutely no chance of moaning from my own horse. My mother thought she had found a clever solution. She managed to find a 4-H club for cat owners cleverly named Silver Claws.

The idea amuses me now. My vision was to ride a horse in an arena. My reality was watching my outside cat give me the evil eye for an entire week while she was stuck in a cage at the fair.

If cats go to heaven, there is a gray calico cat who has earned many jewels in her crown for the torture I imposed. Luckily for me, she was mostly docile and extremely patient – ​​except for the occasional frown.

The ultimate test of her temper came during the Dress Like Your Pet contest. My feline friend and I were dressed as Cyndi Lauper for the occasion. We didn’t win, but the photos alone are a glamorous and humbling prize.

The whole storyline is a reminder of how weird and wonderful it was to be a kid in the 80s. As far as fashion goes, I rocked it. I had on a trucker hat with Silver Claws proudly printed on it and my shirt had my cat’s name, Smokey, ironed in blurry black letters. I pretended it was just as cool to spend the night in the cat stable as it was in the stable.

The next generation

The arguments I presented to my parents came back to haunt me when I had my children. They wanted at worst to take large cattle to the fair. My daughters wanted horses, and the boys would always like to raise cattle. Suddenly the simplicity of raising a cat seemed very appealing.

My husband took the lead in getting our kids involved in 4-H. He set a limit on poultry and waterfowl. When my children complain about their choices, I remind them that I brought a cat to the fair.

This summer we had a hatchling duckling from the incubator that took the responsibility of pet ownership to a new level. In the past we have been able to have a hen with chicks who also takes care of a duckling. This time the duckling imprinted on my son.

Imprinting occurs when the young are able-bodied and move shortly after hatching. Ducks, geese, and turkeys all have young that imprint on their mothers. Other surprising examples are hyenas, zebras and guinea pigs.

Ducklings imprint during the sensitive period of 12 to 36 hours after hatching. When my son fed the duckling in his hands, he quickly imprinted. He follows him around the yard and continually squeaks when he can’t find him. It cut into his free time, but was a learning experience.

The duckling will not make an appearance at the fair this year but will need another year or two to mature. When it happens, a proud parent will show it to the judges.

Being a member of a 4-H club means being involved throughout the year. There are regular meetings and fundraisers as well as off-season animal care. No matter the type of animal or project, invaluable learning takes place.

Lots of people will be watching the ribbons, but I’ll be on the lookout for kids and their pets in matching costumes.


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