Terri Licking: 4-H, my foundation for life | TheFencePost.com

Terri Licking: 4-H, my foundation for life

Hailey Watson-Huffman washes her calf for the Dawes County Fair in 2015. This must be done for all animal shows.
Photo by Terri Licking |

National 4-H week

National 4-H week was Oct. 2-8. For more information on 4-H, go to 4-h.org.


About the piece

This column was one of two Nebraska reflections chosen to be included in a first compilation memoirs from 4-H alumni and members. Two from every state were selected, so 100 submissions were chosen from thousands. Each had to be 1000 words or less. The book these were printed in is still on sale on Amazon under the title “4-H Stories, from the Heart”.

“It was an honor to be one of the two selected for this collection from Nebraska,” said Terri Licking, the author of this piece.

I would rank being a part of 4-H as one of the top ten positive experiences of my life.

My granddaughter, Hailey, showed livestock in 2009 making us a four-generation 4-H family. I was adopted at age seven, and moved to my folks’ ranch where the main social summer activity for youth back then was 4-H. I was never a good athlete, so concentrating on 4-H was natural. One of the best things about 4-H is that you can be any shape, size or physical ability and still excel. And while excelling, you learn skills you can fall back on for the rest of your life.

My parents became involved as 4-H leaders. Mom was one of the leaders for the home economics projects in the Cloverleaf’s 4-H Club. Dad was a beef leader of the Lone Valley 4-H Club. Mom also belonged to an Extension women’s club that met once a month on a Sunday, and it always included a great potluck dinner at the women’s homes. She served on the county’s 4-H council and Dad was livestock superintendent at the county fair, even after I went to college. The Lone Valley Club is still going strong and still enjoying potlucks with their meetings.

Mom insisted I take cooking, baking and sewing projects. She was an excellent cook and the family pie baker for reunions and community potlucks. My yeast rolls garnered purple ribbons at county fairs and blue ribbons at the Nebraska State Fairs. My neighbor taught me sewing.

My real love was range management — the study of the grasses, soils and proper grazing management of livestock. I also enjoyed showing beef. When Dad let me keep my first breeding heifer, Miss JS Technician II, it was the start of my herd. We raised purebred Herefords and I had 10 breeding heifers by the time I went to college. The horse project was another favorite. Later, I met and married a rancher who lived 30 miles north and raised Angus. We had Black Baldies, a combination of Hereford and Angus genetics. The three 4-H projects have served me well, partnering with my husband on a Nebraska Sandhills ranch south of Thedford, Neb.

I enjoyed judging livestock – beef, hogs and sheep. I made the county’s team the last couple of years and went to the state contest. Range judging was my forte. One had to identify 24 grasses, three different range sites consisting of a 3 foot by 3 foot staked-out plot where the contestant had to determine the soil site and the degree of use by the livestock. I won the 4-H division of the Nebraska State Range Judging contest in 1972.

While growing up, I was shy, introverted and a stutterer. It was through 4-H demonstrations and giving oral reasons in livestock judging that I gained self-confidence and increased my self-esteem. Speech in high school came easier to me than some of my non-4-H classmates, mainly because I had been speaking in front of audiences for several years.

4-H allowed me travel opportunities that I would not have had growing up. I won the first of two trips to Washington, D.C. to attend the Society for Range Management 25th anniversary convention. This was given to the top two participants at Range Camp. Back then, girls in range projects were a rarity. I flew for the first time at 17. While at the SRM meeting in D.C., I was elected secretary of their Range Youth Forum – more than 300 youth in high school and college voted for me. My 4-H public speaking experiences served me well, as the high school students had to give a presentation on their homes and how range tied into our lives. The following February, the Nebraska delegation drove to Idaho to attend the national SRM meeting.

The second trip was to the Citizenship Short Course in Washington, D.C., four months after SRM. This trip took three weeks on a bus with stops at Henry Ford’s birthplace and museum in Detroit, Niagara Falls on the Canada side, New York City, Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania and the Amish communities along the way. 4-H gave me the opportunity to see nearly half of the continental United States before I graduated from high school.

After marriage, I moved only 30 miles into Thomas County. When our last child, our only son, was ready for 4-H, he wanted to show beef — just like Mom.

Our two girls earlier were easier. They did the cooking and sewing projects with their paternal grandma’s help. I went to the fair board and asked what they had for a livestock show. I was shocked when they said they had horse shows, but no beef ones. Thomas County, in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills, the No. 1 cattle producing area and no beef? They gave me the green light to organize one.

The 4-H Bucket Calf was a new project that paired 4-Hers with an orphan calf. The 4-Her became the calf’s surrogate mother. At fair time, the pair was judged on their compatibility. The judge interviewed the 4-Her on every aspect of care they gave. The calf is judged on cleanliness and showmanship. This project may have been the beginning of interview judging for other projects.

That first year I sent out a plea to fellow ranchers and members of the Sandhills Cattle Association. The prospective “surrogate mother” and I would go and pick-up their calf and take it back to the 4-Her’s home. One of the extra things they had to do was keep in contact with the rancher who owned the calf. The animal was on loan unless the two parties made a contract otherwise. I had 12 4-H “surrogate mothers” that first year, with my son bringing home two calves.

When I learned that there was no livestock pen available, since there was no livestock show, the parents discussed setting up the rodeo arena using portable panels. But that would have required a great deal of effort. We decided we would circle the trailers — as in, move the pick-up trucks and their trailers in a circle — to create a pen. We had classes for overall showman, heifers and steers. The picture of that first show graced the cover of the Nebraska Farmer the next year to highlight their county fair issue. The following year we made a show pen with portable panels.

I enjoyed being a 4-H leader for 17 years. My kids stayed in 4-H until after junior high, when sports and sports camps took precedence. It is good to see my grandchildren becoming old enough to join 4-H. I hope they will enjoy 4-H and learn as much, or more than I did. 4-H has changed to match the needs of the times, as it must. 4-H and the pledge it stands for is needed today more than ever. It is more than cows and cooking and the sky is the limit. ❖

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