For Weidert, last fair as a 4-H'er is bittersweet
LISMORE -- While many soon-to-be college sophomores spend their summer break learning through internships or stockpiling cash from a summer job, Brandon Weidert has spent long days on the family farm, pampering his cattle and prepping them for the show ring.
Weidert is in his final year of the Nobles County 4-H program, which means this will be his last year as a 4-H exhibitor. For a kid who has spent the past 12 years in the youth leadership organization, to say this fair will be bittersweet just about sums it up.
It shouldn't be too difficult to find Weidert at the fair -- he'll be there all four days, tending to his dairy and beef animals and his horse. Later this morning, he'll take to the show ring with his Holsteins -- five dairy heifers and two cows -- for his final dairy show. The project is one he's been involved in ever since he was old enough to join 4-H.
The youngest of Jeff and Jan Weidert's three sons, Brandon followed in his brothers' footsteps when he joined the Grand Prairie Rockets 4-H Club. It just so happens to be the same club of which his mother was a member.
"When (my brothers Nick and Justin) were working with their calves, I started doing it, too," he said. "It was something I enjoyed. I usually worked with their calves more than they did."
With his family in the dairy business, Weidert confessed that his true passion lies in his beef herd -- a project he developed into a fledgling business in recent years.
"Things are always changing within the beef industry," he said. "Now that I'm starting to raise my own calves, it's fun to be involved with genetics -- breeding and trying to raise the best calf that you can and, hopefully, in the future you can see it shown by other 4-H'ers and doing well."
Weidert will have five prospect beef calves at the county fair -- animals that have calved out on his family's farm. Four of the calves will also be shown in the Cloverbud beef show. Cloverbuds is a program for children too young to be in the traditional 4-H program. They range from kindergarten through second grade.
"Getting younger kids involved and getting them interested in different things, I think, is what I enjoy most," Weidert said.
A few of the Cloverbuds visited Weidert's farm this summer to see the prospect calves and practice leading them around the yard with a show stick.
"It's just fun for them at the fair. Since they aren't able to show in an actual show, they get to go in the ring, talk with the judge and get their picture taken with their animal," Weidert said.
He began working with the next generation of 4-H'ers in the beef project a few years ago, when he was involved in the co-op calf project. Now, with his prospect calves, he's hoping he can return to the fair next year and see some of the calves he's raised shown by 4-H exhibitors.
"That's my hope, that they'll start in beef or a different project area at the fair and hopefully enjoy it and do it throughout their 4-H career, too," he said.
With the beef show Saturday morning, Weidert will exhibit two market steers, a market heifer, a prospect steer and a prospect heifer. He purchased the market animals -- half-blood Simmentals -- last fall and competed in open class shows earlier this year in Brookings and Watertown, S.D., to get them accustomed to the show ring.
When Weidert moved back home after his freshman year at South Dakota State University, he began working with the animals from sunup to sundown. They were washed every morning, had their hair blow-dried and got to spend their days in front of a fan. By sundown, they were out in the pen to "run around and kick up their heels," he said.
Work with the prospect calves began in early July as Weidert trained them to walk with a halter and get used to people being around them. The goal is that they will lead well in the show ring on Saturday.
Sandwiched between today's 4-H dairy show and Saturday's beef show is the 4-H horse show on Friday. There, Weidert will compete with his Quarter Horse, Jack.
Jack hasn't been left out of Weidert's busy summer schedule. The pair competed in shows every Sunday this summer as members of the Southwest Trail Riders Association and also participated in barrel bashes in the region on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
"There's not much free time," Weidert said.
When he isn't in the show ring at the fair this week, Weidert can often be found working as a Nobles County 4-H Ambassador. The ambassadors help ensure the livestock shows run smoothly, assist younger 4-H'ers wherever needed and can be a resource to fair visitors.
The volunteer role isn't just a fair-week responsibility, however. Throughout the year, Weidert helps with 4-H programming, from day camp and after-school activities to Cloverbud gatherings and Federation meetings.
While it was impossible to attend all of the events this year because he was away at college, Weidert worked ambassador duties into his schedule whenever he could this summer.
"It's really important that we get kids excited and encourage them about 4-H," he said. "There's so much to learn and do.
"It's fun to work with young kids and teach them about what's involved in 4-H and so many fun activities," he added. "It's fun to be a role model for them, too. They look up to us ambassadors."
As he reflects on his 12-year 4-H career and the leadership roles he's had -- including serving as Nobles County 4-H Federation President in 2011-2012 and serving as president, vice president and treasurer of the Grand Prairie Rockets 4-H Club over the years -- Weidert said he's gained valuable leadership and communication skills and learned responsibility.
"Responsibility -- that's the big thing I think of right away," he shared. "Taking care of your animals, responsible for being at meetings -- having a commitment toward something."
When Sunday, the final day of the Nobles County Fair, comes around, it will be the end of an era for Weidert.
"I'm kind of dreading it, but then, also, I really enjoy the fair," he said. "When fair's over, I never want to go home. It's going to be hard."
There's always the Minnesota State Fair, though, and one more chance to enter the show ring with an animal. Weidert has won a trip every year he's been eligible. This year will be his seventh straight year if he earns a trip -- and the 13th consecutive trip for the Weidert family.
While competing at the state fair will mean at least one lost day of class at SDSU, Weidert said the sacrifice will be worth it. After all, this year is a year of lasts in his 4-H career.
He will return to the SDSU campus this fall as a sophomore majoring in animal science. His goal is to one day work in either livestock reproduction or nutrition. Weidert is a 2012 graduate of Adrian High School.