THE FOUR-LEAF CLOVER, a rare variation of its three-leaf counterpart, has long been recognized as a symbol of good luck. If a person stumbles upon this treasure, then the holder is sure to be the recipient of a most fortuitous blessing. As if she had that lucky charm in her pocket all along, one 4-H member and first-time exhibitor at the recent Polk County Youth Fair emerged with a Grand Champion prize.
But, a closer look reveals that— perhaps— luck had nothing to do with it, after all. For McKenzie Webb, involvement in 4-H and agriculture is a longstanding family tradition. Her grandfather is Paul Webb, Bartow’s esteemed agriculture teacher who is aff ectionately known as the “Pig Man” at the local ag shows. Her mother and uncle have a long history with animals— raising horses, chickens, rabbits, and more— so it was almost inevitable for the youngster to have her own experiences with livestock.
McKenzie, an elementary student and member of the New Horizons 4-H club in Frostproof, recently entered her first Polk County Youth Fair with a Zebu bull. It was with this entry that she took home the Grand Champion trophy. Not bad for a girl fresh out of the gate! The Polk County Youth Fair is an annual event that gives young people an opportunity to showcase their skills in agriculture, animal husbandry, and horticulture. There are exhibitions for horses, poultry, rabbits, hogs, and of course, cattle. It is an excellent chance for kids to experience first-hand the perennially important industry that is agriculture. Plus, they can enjoy the excitement of a festive fair environment. It is events and organizations like this that feed the next generation’s desire to continue the traditions of the industry. Agriculture is one industry that has real heart, and kids need to feel that heartbeat if we want them to nurture a lifelong connection.
4-H clubs like Frostproof’s New Horizons branch, are an invaluable resource for learning skills that will help bolster children’s self-reliance and level of responsibility. By caring for an animal, such as a rabbit or a hog, they are able to see what the real-life consequences of their decisions are. The competitive nature of exhibiting at the agricultural fairs inspires kids to do their best in order to be the best.
The New Horizons club meets once a month in Frostproof and is led by Melodie Davis and Amy Freeze. The club’s main projects include raising rabbits, chickens, hogs, and heifers. “We love doing table setting, crafts, and cooking,” says leader Melodie Davis. 4-H clubs are open to children ages 8-18, and for the little ones in kindergarten through second grade, there is a division called Cloverbuds. Cloverbuds can’t show at the youth fair, but there is a special Cloverbud Fair just for them.
McKenzie’s family has been active with the New Horizons club for many years, but cattle hasn’t been one of the types of animals her family has a lot of experience with. It was just happenstance that caused McKenzie to start on this project. One of the ladies from the Frostproof 4-H had started breeding Zebu cattle, so when a calf came up for sale McKenzie was eager to try her hand at raising it. The Zebu is a species of humped cattle that is very well adapted to the climate in Florida. They are used for their milk, meat, and as draft animals.
Her mother, Meghan Wagner, has a familiarity with animals that includes horses, dogs, and rabbits, but no experience with cows. “She seems to really be taking to this particular breed of animal,” Meghan says of McKenzie’s enthusiasm for the loose-skinned, humped-back cattle. The Zebu breed is derived from Asian breeds, primarily the Guzerat, Nelore, and Gir. They belong to the species Bos primigenius, and are now found on all continents. The term “Zebu” is now used to refer to that specific breed, plus as a more general term for the family of breeds encompassing the Guzera, Nelore, and Brahman. It’s been a learning experience for both mother and daughter. “It’s as new for me as it is for her,” Meghan says. Winning the Grand Championship trophy is an excellent incentive to continue pursuing 4-H projects. McKenzie will probably show her bull again next year, before he ages out of eligibility. She is also thinking of trying her hand with some larger animals in the future. She’s thinking maybe a heifer in a few years, maybe a steer after that. “Everybody was really shocked at how little she is and how well she handles her bull,” adds Meghan.
“She is an animal lover at heart,” Meghan says of her daughter. The family has rabbits, chickens, even a turkey already, and now they have a Zebu bull living right in their backyard. The rural neighborhood allows 4-H projects to stay on the property, so McKenzie keeps her cow in a pen where she can have convenient access to him. She is able to do all of the caretaking, from feeding to grooming, without ever leaving home. Th at kind of experience is going to prove more fortunate than any amount of luck could ever bring.
story by TERESA SCHIFFER