‘Learn to do by doing’ sums up 4-H pandemic response

Like many other agricultural groups, 4-H clubs have had to adapt to life under COVID-19.

“When they first closed everything down, we said we were going to finish the year, no matter what, and every kid’s steer was going to get sold, no matter what,” said Murray Skippen, general leader of the Fort Saskatchewan 4-H Beef Club.

“We’ve been working together to get it completed.”

When the pandemic was declared, Alberta 4-H announced clubs were not allowed to meet in person, unless there was a rule change from the provincial or federal government. (The ban has since been extended until at least May 31.) The Fort Saskatchewan group had already had its public speaking event, but still needed to have its annual steer show and sale.

Skippen said members of the show committee decided to cancel the sale because they didn’t feel the economy was going to be strong enough, even if COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Their 4-H steers are normally bought by local companies.

Members of the Fort Saskatchewan 4-H Beef Club with their steer in 2019.
photo: Supplied

“We called the local butcher shop that normally kills the steers anyway, and I got a price on what he sells sides of beef for,” he said. “We’ve been advertising to sell it privately by the half and by the quarter.”

The 16 club members, who range in age from eight to 18, have been raising their steers since October, when they started their monthly meetings at the Josephburg Agricultural Society.

“We have the steers weigh in at the end of October. Kids have to keep a record book of how much the steer gains, and how much a steer eats, and you do a profit margin chart at the end of the year to see whether you made or lost money,” said Skippen.

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This year, a couple of members of the group showed their steers in a virtual agricultural show hosted by the Bashaw Agricultural Society in March.

The club’s annual show and sale is usually around May 25, at the Moyer Recreation Centre in conjunction with the Country Classic in Josephburg. If restrictions are lifted, the club will rent an arena and have a small show that day. However, if the restrictions aren’t lifted, the club will have a virtual show. Each club member will take a video of themselves with their steer, and the entries will be judged by a Canadian, an American and an Australian judge.

“We want to give the kids something different to look forward to,” said Skippen. “Everybody has their steer halter broke. Our club works well together. If someone has a steer that doesn’t lead, I have a donkey that is really well trained at training calves. I loan him out quite a bit in the spring.”

Club members have been good about coaching each other with their steers, he added. They are competing, but also help each other, he said.

The steers will go to slaughter on June 3, and two steers will be slaughtered every week for the next few months. Meat is sold for $3.85 a pound.

Skippen said club members’ families got the first opportunity to purchase the meat. He also put some information up on the club’s Facebook page and orders have come in quickly, he said.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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