Rural Roots – My 4-H Calf

This would have been the 170th year of the largest county fair in my region.  Traditionally held mid-October on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, it attracts over 50,000 people every year – except this one, when it was cancelled like everything else.    It originally took place near a tavern in 1850 and featured only cattle and horses.   Now it has its own permanent fairgrounds and features the usual fair fare – midway, exhibit halls, livestock barns, grandstand shows and more junk food than you could possibly eat.

Brigden Fair - old pic

Everyone wearing their Sunday best…..in 1900?

My ancestors immigrated in 1846 and I like to think of them attending those early years.  My dad remembers the fair being a highlight of his Depression childhood when he would be given the princely sum of 25 cents to spend as he wished.   Back then everyone went to the fair, and they still do.

It was our tradition growing up to attend the fair on Thanksgiving Monday, (we had our big turkey dinner on Sunday), in order to catch the noon parade.   After a tour of the exhibition halls and a walk through the midway my dad would spend the rest of the afternoon in the cattle barns watching the judging of the livestock while we womenfolk would head for the much more interesting horse competitions.   

Bridgen fair cattle 2 (3)

We would meet up at 5 pm when they would be awarding the prize for the last show of the day – the 4H Beef Cattle Grand Champion, with the winner headed straight to the abattoir.  (This is probably TMI for all the vegans out there, but it’s a fact of rural life, you eat/sell what you raise.)  

So imagine my surprise to come across this ceramic creature when I was buying fall bulbs at a city nursery.

Calf ceramic

Sure it made a nice fall display, sitting there on that bale of straw, but at $198 I can’t imagine anyone who would buy it?   Farmers aren’t known to be too sentimental about their livestock.   Now if it was a horse maybe….

This cute little fella reminded me of my short-lived 4H calf.    For those of you who are city folks, 4H (their motto is head, heart, hands and health) started out as a rural Boy-Scout-type organization, fostering life skills in youth ages 7-21, learning by doing etc.   Although they have branched out into other programs, they are still going strong in many rural areas.  According to last years Fair Exhibit Prize Booklet we have a local 4-H sheep  club, a 4-H beef club, a horse club, baking club, quilting club and one for the younger set age 7-9 called Clover Buds.

We never belonged to 4H growing up in the sixties, as life was busy with school, chores and my brothers had baseball and hockey, but my sister joined the 4-H cooking club one year when she was 12.   They met on Saturday mornings at a neighbors farm to prepare a dish, but she was to try out the weekly recipes at home.   She was teased so mercilessly by my siblings, over such delicacies as Welsh Rarebit and Blueberry Buckle, that one night at supper she burst into tears and declared, “You guys never want to try anything!”  And it was true, we weren’t very adventurous.  (I can be absolved as I was always a picky eater who had zero interest in cooking.)  The Purity cookbook states that Welch Rarebit is a cheese sauce and egg on toast concoction, but it might have been the dry mustard/cayenne pepper/Worcester sauce we objected to.   The Blueberry buckle wasn’t too bad, more cake-like, but we were pie people.   Then there was the long blue calico dress that had to be sewn for Pioneer Days, which involved many tears and much work, and was tossed aside after a few hours wear.   So that was the end of 4-H until one summer afternoon when we were bored to tears, the way kids used to get when there wasn’t a constant source of entertainment streaming at them 24/7.

The Barn in Winter (2005)

The Barn in Winter – painting by Joni’s mom 

While my brothers helped with the chores when they got older, I wasn’t out in the barn that much – there was nothing to do there.   Sometimes there would be a new batch of kittens, and if my cousins were over, we might jump in the hay mow which we weren’t supposed to as the middle section had rotten floorboards under the bales.   My dad had Holstein milking cows then and I remember the pails of milk being lined up in the hallway, but you had to stay out of the way and you definitely couldn’t go near the milking stanchions or you might get kicked by a cow.  Occasionally, we would take the dog for a walk back the lane-way to get the cows for milking, but mostly they came up on their own, like clockwork.   Here I am with Sally Ann, the oldest and head cow, and the only one with a name.

Cow - Sally Ann barn helper (4)

I’m really liking this jacket I have on.   L.L. Bean still sells this type of barn coat.  

So we decided one bored afternoon that we would train our own 4-H calves and parade them around the barnyard on a rope, like they did at the fair.   Here’s a photo of mine.

calf my four H (4)

What surprises me about this picture is my outfit – I’m wearing a cute white eyelet top that surely was not part of my regular play clothes.   And my hair, a towhead after a summer of sun.   Now cows aren’t the brightest of animals to begin with, and the poor little thing was not very obedient, so the 4-H calf was abandoned after a few short hours.   Judging from the size of my brother in the background, (my mother is supervising and taking the picture) I’m likely seven years old, much too young for a 4H calf anyway, although I don’t recall my older siblings lasted any longer with theirs.

Although not obvious in the picture, the calf had a big ugly goiter on its neck.   I wish I could say that’s what first inspired my interest in pursuing a medical career, but I just found it yucky.    Besides, it was really a horse I wanted anyway.

I don’t know what happened to my 4-H calf – it was gone in a few weeks.  It’s unlikely you could treat a hypothyroid calf back then, and you certainly couldn’t sell it for veal.  (My mother served veal exactly once, as we all refused to eat it on principle.)   Although I took a veterinary medicine course in 4th year (an easy elective we called Barnyard) I’ve never dispensed any thyroid for animals, large or small, although I’ve seen some strange meds (Ventolin inhaler for a horse?) as we had a veterinarian’s office close by.   Most likely the calf went on to the Big Barnyard in the sky.

My dad eventually sold his milking herd and switched to cash cropping and beef cattle, as they were less work than milking twice a day.   A milk quota is worth a million plus now, and the majority of dairy farms are mechanized and large scale.  Those small family farms hardly exist anymore, it’s a way of life which has mostly disappeared.    

Ghost Barn – painting by Joni’s mom

So, when I visit the nursery for plants next spring, I expect to see that ceramic calf on sale for a substantially reduced price, and I hope to be able to attend the fall fair again next year.

PS. I should add that our animals were treated humanely, with grazing in the fields, and no antibiotics or growth hormones. We also had free range chickens for eggs long before it was popular. I guess you say we were organic before organic was cool.

Me and my pet chicken…

PS. No matter where you may sit on the vegetarian/carnivore spectrum the decision to eat red meat or not is a personal choice. In the early 80’s my brother married a vegetarian (or a herbivore as my young niece delightfully described her, they must have been studying dinosaurs) which was not that common back then when 10 oz. porterhouse steaks were a fixture on restaurant menus, but nothing was ever said by my dad who raised beef cattle and my mother just added a few extra dishes to the holiday table…mac and cheese for Thanksgiving, deviled eggs for Easter and rice….yea bring it on! Not that my new SIL expected anything, but you know, to be hospitable. I know I lucked out in the parent department as my folks were nice easy-going people who were always willing to set an extra place at the table….but I wonder if people generally were just more tolerant to differing viewpoints back then? Now it seems like you can’t even give a dinner party without a long list of someone’s dietary restrictions and an accompanying lecture on why they are right!

34 thoughts on “Rural Roots – My 4-H Calf

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I grew up in a small midwestern town surrounded by farms. I know all about 4-H and Future Farmers of America. I was in neither organization but I remember kids raising animals and food to take to state fair competitions. It looked like a lot of work to a city girl. And totally agree with you about hosting dinner parties now. Everyone won’t eat something for some reason. It is trying when you’re the hostess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Ally I wondered how many readers would know what 4-H was. We went to the city high school, not the rural one, so none of my city friends were into it either. I’ve pretty much given up on even hosting lunch anymore and if I do it’s usually just one or two people and the Chinese lunch takeout menu. I tried to make a quiche and salad one day, but one person couldn’t eat ham, one couldn’t eat eggs, and another mushrooms, for dessert were there were pinenuts in the key lime pie (they put that on every box label just to be safe) and no dairy at all I’m lactose intolerant. I can understand if it’s a true allergy, but we were raised to be polite in company and eat what was before you. A friend of mine even brings her own salad dressing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ally Bean says:

        Your experience with the luncheon sounds familiar. I just can’t accommodate anymore. Like you I was raised to eat what was put in front of me, regardless of whether I liked it. Or not.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. brilliantviewpoint says:

    This was a wonderful post, learning about life on the farm. LOVED the photos of you, amazing that you have photos. My parents only have a few of us from when we were young. SMILED and ENJOYED the name, “Sally Ann,” for the cow, so cute.

    Your Mom is a fabulous artist!! Such beautiful paintings!! Oh, and I certainly remember L.L. Bean!! You are right, great jackets. Thanks for making me smile today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thank you! Those two barn pictures will be in her art exhibit which is opening next week, with booked timed entry due to the pandemic. I don’t expect a large turnout, but it’s nice she gets a chance to show them. We don’t have many photos of us growing up as film was expensive in the 60’s, esp. color film which I think wasn’t available until the mid-60’s, but it’s nice to have some. My mother divided up all the old photos into albums for us one Christmas. No wonder I have an obsession with not having my bangs too short but that was the style of the day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        She’ll have 28 paintings and the theme of the show will be rural memories. It’s in a heritage museum, not an art gallery, as it fits their history mandate. It will be up for 6 months, longer than the 3 1/2 they had planned originally, as the quilt show before her was cancelled, and the big Paint Ontario show in March delayed till May. If we have to lockdown again here (the museums in Toronto are already closed again), then it will go virtual, so I may blog about it then. None of the paintings will be for sale (as it’s not a gallery which takes comimssion), as she doesn’t want to sell the best ones which represent her memories, and we may take it elsewhere if there is sufficient interest. Normally, she doesn’t sell much, as this area is not really an art market, and she doesn’t like to sell her favorite ones.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        That’s great! My mothers story is especially inspiring to beginners! No, I don’t paint at all…I was just the chauffeur for the plein art outdoor paintings. Watercolors are harder to do I’ve been told than acrylic or oil. One of my art friends paints with alcohol ink which is even more difficult. I seriously can’t draw a straight line, and the few times I’ve tried painting I just find it too way stressful, as in clenching my teeth, and it never turns out the way I’d like. I think I’ll just stick with the writing and photography….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Eilene Lyon says:

    I love your farm memories and photos. I know about 4H and FFA, and both are active in our county. Going to the fair to see the livestock is always fun for me, though I’ll probably never be a farmer or rancher. Your mom’s paintings are delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. avwalters says:

    I’ve done urban and rural. I was taught to eat what was put in front of you. (Though my mum now regrets that she didn’t catch my food allergies–and that I was “a sickly kid” as a result.) And I was a vegetarian for decades, before returning to small portion proteins. What was reassuring in a rural background was that there was a way that things were done, and it provided guidance. What was liberating about moving away, was that I learned there could be exceptions to every rule–and that we needed to heed what was best for us, without judging others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      That is true…..way too much judgmental stuff going on now. I certainly don’t eat the way my parents ate, but my mother still cooks the way she did on the farm…..with perhaps a little less butter! I doubt think I could ever be a vegetarian as I have problems keeping my blood sugar stable, it tends to run low, and I need more protein in my diet. I try and eat healthy, except for desserts and those in moderation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Linda Schaub says:

    I loved this post Joni though I’ve never lived in a rural area, nor a farm. My great grandparents had a farm in Ariss, Ontario but that was before my time, but my mom would tell me about going to stay there every Summer to bring in the hay and other crops … her father took his 2 weeks’ vacation then. My grandmother helped her mom put up preserves. Even though your calf had an early demise, it still would have been fun raising it for 4-H club. That’s an adorable picture of you holding your chicken too. 🙂 In the ten years I lived in Canada, I never went to the Royal Winter Fair and a few years before my grandmother died, we were there to celebrate her birthday/Christmas at the same time the Fair was on. My grandmother asked if I wanted to go and I jumped at the chance – a neighbor who was always at her house for morning coffee had expressed a desire to go and didn’t want to go alone. So we went together and had a fun time. I’ve never even been to Michigan’s State Fair so this was a real treat. We spent an entire day there, looking at prize animals and watching the Clydesdales pulling the big wagons with their harnesses all shiny and gleaming and they had jumpers there too. I came home and my mom and grandmother asked if I enjoyed myself – I probably talked about it for an hour and my last question was “why did my father never take me here as a youngster?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’ve only been to the Royal Winter Fair once and that was very briefly when we were visiting my sister one weekend. We watched the jumping and the equestrian events which I loved.as I loved horses. I’ve never been to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) in Aug/Sept with it’s big midway either, which was also cancelled this year. Maybe your dad didn’t like animals?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I thought you might have gone to the Royal Winter Fair while attending school since you weren’t too far away. I was at the CNE once as a kid when we lived there and then I went to visit my grandmother in 1976 and took a co-worker from the diner with me as she’d never been to Toronto. So we went by Greyhound bus, got there and the TTC was on strike – the entire TTC! We had to take a taxi to get to my grandmother’s house and went to the CNE twice … once for the day and we saw Chicago and another time for the day and saw the Beach Boys. We walked home both times (still amazes me we did that) … we were young though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I remember walking home from a music concert at Ontario Place one summer night and it surprises me that we did that! Not sure that would be a good idea now with so much crime in Toronto now!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        That’s funny that neither of us gave it a second thought about two young women taking a long walk on a summer night. Evidently my grandmother didn’t caution us against doing it either, so crime was a non-issue in 1976 I guess. I didn’t realize crime was so bad in Toronto. My friend/former co-worker who lives in Kingsville tells me about all the crime in Windsor now. The TTC strike was over the day we left to return to Detroit nice timing!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Crime has really gotten bad in Toronto – lots of gangs have moved in with gun violence and the drug trade etc. During my last summer at work I took the train to Toronto to take an immunization course (mandatory, although work did not pay for it and it cost me $1000), and I stayed at the Hilton near the Eaton Centre as that’s where the course was being offered the next day. Someone told me to be careful walking around as there had been a murder across the street from the hotel in broad daylight. I did walk down to the Eaton Centre after the course, a 5 minute walk, but I felt uneasy and was back in the hotel room before dark. Was glad to go home, and then a couple of months later I retired and didn’t need the course anyway! The one side of Bloor St. near the Eaton Centre is often the site of gunshots whereas the back side (I used to stay at the Marriott there) is safer, at least it was. It’s not Toronto the good anymore!

        Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I had no idea about this Joni – here I am saying I would give anything to leave here where all I hear about is barricaded gunmen, freeway snipers and people who would think nothing of taking a life. How I wish I was born in another era, even twenty years before, because to think I have waited all these years for when I retire and can just enjoy myself with no work restrictions and may be afraid to step outside the door. I can remember going to my grandmother’s house, in the late 70s/early 80s (before ’86 as she passed away in January 1986) and we’d be there for three or four days and I went down on the streetcar for the day just to walk around Eatons and Simpsons … not a care in the world and didn’t even buy anything, just looking around the stores, feeling what I deemed to be a safe, cosmopolitan city, unlike here. What a shame you had to pay for that mandatory course and then retired shortly thereafter. You are still so much better to have retired – look at what you’d be dealing with once they start innoculating with the COVID-19 vaccine, perhaps at pharmacies as they don’t think the local health departments can handle all the innoculations. Every day I listen to the news and I cringe – this election and its outcome cannot come fast enough.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        It’s just the Toronto and GTA area – Missisauga etc. that is bad for gun crime because of the gangs. Oakville is still okay and the rest of the province is okay. London is alright too. Not sure about Windsor. If you stay out of the big cities it’s good. We have crime here but it’s petty stuff like people stealing to get money to support their habits etc. Hardly any murders here, maybe one a year? I would feel safe walking anywhere, except downtown at night, not even to the theatre unless with a group. Some of the pharmacies here are doing COVID testing, of asymptomatic people, like people who need negative tests to visit loved ones in nursing homes, but I would not want to be doing that, as we never had enough time or staff on, and could you trust people to be asymptomatic or would they show up just because the regular testing centres are full? Apparently they use a mouth swab instead of a nasal one, but I assume once vaccinations start they will want to shift some of that onto the pharmacies who can’t even cope with the flu shot workload. I booked our flu shots online with the health unit (mom needs the high dose seniors one) and it took me an hour to register and by then the first date was full. Her doctor is not doing them this year, as so many offices aren’t. I’m worried about the election outcome too – surely sanity will prevail!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I heard today another idea was to get the National Guard to administer shots … I was thinking they’s just ask for nurses, or folks who could administer a shot, to come out of retirement like they did here when they called for retiree nurses to come help “the cause”. Yes, get those flu shots as soon as you can as they take 14 days to take effect as you know. I still hate to think of Toronto with all the crime … no more “Canada the Good” which was a phrase I heard for years. Your PM is smart extending the deadline to November 21st for Americans wanting to travel to Canada. I kept forgetting to comment on your mom’s nice painting – every time I’d press “send” I’d remember. Is your mom getting excited about the showing?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        She’s excited but we haven’t actually seen the exhibit yet, to see how they’ve hung in….some time in the next two weeks. It’s timed entry booked online so most likely we’ll go on a mid-week day to avoid too many people around. The problem with asking retirees to help out is that most of them are in the age group where they don’t want to be around crowds because of the COVID risk. Same with asking retired teachers to come forward now, as they are having problems hiring enough supply teachers….if you’ve been retired ten years and are 70 why would you want to expose yourself?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I agree – I wouldn’t want to come out of retirement without the pandemic, especially if you a nurse and essentially on the front line. My friend Ann Marie spent a lot of free time after she retired from being an elementary teacher in volunteering. She spent all of Monday at a soup kitchen in Detroit (even took Spanish classes to be able to communicate with Latino volunteers) and she volunteered one day at a nursing home, plus all her church activities, but no more. She is very active – doesn’t like being at home and not able to help people as it is in her nature.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes, that’s true … luckily it is Winter, so it is easier to do just that. There are big worries for after Thanksgiving and over the Christmas holidays. They fear Super Spreader events from extended family members getting together – who is “safe” or “not safe”? I don’t know about Canada, but they say it will be 2022 before things are “normal” as we once knew them. I think never.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Anne says:

    This has been a delight to read! Interesting memories and photographs that remind me of growing up both on a farm and in a small mining village. We haven’t hosted friends to a meal for ever so long (largely thanks to the pandemic) but I always provide a special ‘vegetarian – friendly’ dish in addition to whatever else I have prepared. That worked well for years – until the really finicky eaters arrived: no gluten / no dairy/ no fish/ no gelatine …I eat very little meat and when we are invited to friends I assure them I am there for the company and not for survival – am quite happy to eat extra salad or potato.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I thought you might enjoy it Anne, as I remember you posting farm photos of your younger self, with your brothers, and your hair as blond as mine! I so agree, it’s not really the vegetarian part that’s the issue, it’s all the other things which are lifestyle choices (like the keto diet), not true food allergies (like peanuts) that make it so difficult to know what to offer.

      Like

  7. J P says:

    I loved this. My mother grew up on a farm and told us stories about the pet pig she and her 2 sisters had. They named it Woofie. It was all fun and games until Woofie underwent a butchering.

    Her aunt and uncle ran a dairy farm in Minnesota and I visited a few times as a kid. Those small farms are disappearing, but a brother in law still grows a lot popcorn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks JP. Such is the rural way of life – you can’t get too attached to the livestock because it may soon be gone, except if it’s a horse however. We never had pigs that I can remember, although they are supposed to be more intelligent animals. There’s still profit in niche markets like popcorn perhaps, but there are very few small farms left on the county line where my parents lived. One of their surviving neighbours now farms 3000 acres. Another has a small acreage called The Funny Farm where he grows fancy lettuces for upscale restaurants.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ruthsoaper says:

    I love your farm stories and photos. We missed the 4H fairs this year. Each county in our area has a 4H fair during the summer. We love going to see animals and the displays. We usually go on tractor pull day too. My husband also is missing the cotton candy. Your mom’s painting is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Ruth! Nice to hear 4H is alive and well in your neck of the woods! I miss the fairs too….not just the big Thanksgiving one but the smaller village ones scattered around the county.

      Liked by 1 person

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