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Blackwelders prepare for the Fair

By Katie Erdman

When you walk through the 4-H Buildings at the Stevens County Fair you may notice that some project areas have a lot of competition while others have just a few entries. Despite the fact that in some categories the entries may be fewer, the quality is almost always very good. This is especially evident in the dairy exhibits that are typically low in numbers but high in quality.

A good part of the quality in the dairy category comes through the hard work of Brett, Katelyn and Kent Blackwelder. The three children of Mark and Amy Blackwelder, of rural Chokio, have worked hard each year to exhibit and show the very best dairy animals and, at the same time, learn all they can about the project.

Entering animals at the county fair started in 1999 when Brett, now 20, had finished 5th grade and his sister Katelyn, now 17, had finished 3rd grade. Brett showed his first dairy calf and the results were very good. In fact, he stated that they still have that first cow he brought to the fair. At the same time, Katelyn was in Cloverbuds and she exhibited dairy for the first time. That year there was only one other entry in the dairy project for older 4-Hers. Brett and the other 4-Her walked their animals around the show ring once and the judge awarded Brett Grand Champion and the Showmanship award went to his competitor.

The next year was Brett's first year to take dairy to the State Fair and he has gone every year since, other than one year when he didn't enter at the fair after breaking his arm the week before. The State Fair is where they have learned the most about their projects other than at home. Watching, listening to judges and comparing notes with other 4-Hers is a vital part of the learning process. This will be Brett's final year of competing in the 4-H Dairy and Beef Shows.

Katelyn is going to be a senior at Chokio-Alberta High School this year. She will continue to bring entries for the dairy and beef shows. At the beef show, the Blackwelders show dairy steers while in the dairy show they show dairy heifers. The dairy steer is short-haired so a little different than other beef steers but many of the same techniques can be used.

Katelyn has also been fortunate to make a State Fair trip every year since 6th grade with her dairy projects. She added that this level is very competitive and the best she has done there is to be picked in the top one third of her class and ranked 8th out of 40. She has also had some success in the dairy interview process.

Kent is going into the 8th grade and has been entering dairy animals since 1st grade when he was a Cloverbud. He was able to actually compete in 3rd grade and has had good success. He also had to wait until 6th grade to enter at the State Fair but learned a lot while watching his older siblings.

Kent has had some success at the state level in high net merit with his animals. This is a system that accumulates points toward an animal based on their ancestry. Each animal has a genetic value and by tracing the parents and grandparents of an animal you arrive at its net merit.

Brett was named to the top one-third in his class at the State Fair and called back for net merit. This is just one more way for a 4-Her to advance their entry but is also a valuable learning tool in the process.

The county and state fairs may be the culmination of weeks of work for the 4-Hers but the learning process goes on all year long. The Blackwelder children have learned a lot from their parents but also from a nutritionist who visits the farm and bull stud representative who stops in. In fact, the nutritionist advised them when picking out animals to take to the fair.

The Blackwelders also rely on the advise of Roger Gausman and Ted Gramm from Hancock Co-op for the right rations when it comes to feed. Once selected, the animals are kept separate from the herd and fed the special ration until fair time. They are familiarized with leading in a show ring, being around people and washed regularly, as will be the case at the fair.

The Blackwelders also share their knowledge with other 4-Hers. A good friend, Erika Ritter, has been showing with them since she was in fifth grade and in recent years, their cousins from Benson have been trying their hand with the dairy project.

Learning, exhibiting and sharing are all part of the 4-H process. There may be meetings, parties and other competitions throughout the year, but the fair is really what it is all about, especially when it comes to exhibiting livestock. For Brett, Katelyn and Kent Blackwelder it is also a time to socialize, meet new people and take a step further with the animals they work so hard on before bringing them to the fair.