Heritage Calf Project allows students to apply their learning
Buying a purebred dairy calf isn't cheap, but one program in St. Croix County is using donations and grants to allow 4-H members to purchase high-quality calves.
The Heritage Calf Project was started almost a decade ago with the premise giving a purebred calf to youth who show a desire in the industry.
The idea came from a banker in Barron County, who for over 30 years would buy a calf for one youth showman each year who was involved in the project and enjoyed it. Chuck Kruschke, the St. Croix County dairy judging coach, said the effects of that generosity were especially evident at the man's funeral.
"When he passed away, they had all the kids who had won a calf come in before the family did at the funeral," Kruschke said. "There were almost 40 people that he had helped start their herd."
This led local dairy leaders to start discussing how to implement a similar program in St. Croix County. Friends of the St. Croix County President Chris Libbey worked with the late Wayne Peterson to get the money together to start the program.
"The money has come from a variety of sources," Libbey said. "The New Richmond Area Community Foundation has given us several grants in support, and a number of the dairymen who have quality purebred livestock have donated the calves."
Seeing how this many kids had profited from being provided with seed calves for quality dairy herds led to the program starting in 2010.
If they're interested in getting a heritage calf, students have to fill out an application, write an essay and be interviewed by three judges. The applicants must explain why it would be important for them to receive it and are asked what they can do to improve the county dairy project.
Many of the past winners remain actively involved in 4-H, including Austin Raymond, Rachel Skinner, Haley Beukema and Maddy Peterson.
"For me it was cool because I don't have cows, so normally I only see the animal for the show season, or I might see it in the barn when milking a couple of years later," Skinner, a New Richmond senior, said. "But with my heritage calf, I got to see it grow through the year, and I'd never gotten to do that before."
This teaches the kids directly what the costs are in raising an animal, according to Kruschke. Skinner has her heritage calf that she bought last spring at Kruschke's farm, and she has to pay for the feed while it's being raised and begin to design a breeding program.
"They have to study genetics and analyze what's wrong with their calf," Kruschke said. "They have to select a sire that will correct those faults, so it helps them in analyzing cattle and genetics. It's a lot of responsibility."
In the past, the calf was chosen for the winner, as in the case of recent New Richmond graduate Austin Raymond. However, the last three winners (Beukema in 2015, Skinner in 2016 and Peterson in 2017) have all received a $1,000 grant to pick out a calf of their choosing. This gives them the amount of money they need to find a purebred calf.
"I was able to pick one with a good background and that is bred more for show, so I got to choose what I wanted," Skinner said. "It's more special when you get to pick it yourself."
Beukema went throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin looking for an animal she wanted to invest in, and Peterson is still searching for her calf.
However, one of the keys of the program is knowing what calf will be the best for showing and/or developing a herd. These four winners are all part of the St. Croix County dairy judging team that Kruschke has been coaching for 48 years.
"The kids have matured a lot and have taken the calves and shown them and placed well," Kruschke said. "That's a credit to the people that sold or donated them, that they try to give them something that has a future. The breeders are also helping by getting animals that have a good future for them."