Growing Beef Producers: Unique heifer donation program helps 4-H youth get growing in the beef industry |

Growing Beef Producers: Unique heifer donation program helps 4-H youth get growing in the beef industry

Cody Jones, center, was the recipient of a donated heifer at the 2017 Butte-Lawrence County Fair. Pictured with Jones left to right are Clay, Laney, Shawnie and Chad Mackaben, and Morgan Mackaben (far right). The Mackaben family initiated an essay contest three years ago to start the contest. Nicole Culvers, second from right was the first recipient of a donated heifer from the Mackaben's. After four years, each recipient must agree to donate a heifer to another Butte-Lawrence 4-H youth to keep the program going for the future. Courtesy photo

While the county fair livestock show season is winding down, one 10-year-old 4-Her is already dreaming about the 2018 county fair. That’s because next year young Cody Jones will be showing a heifer that was awarded to him at this year’s Butte-Lawrence County Fair held in Nisland, South Dakota, in early August.

Jones, the son of Todd and Nicole Jones, received the heifer as the result of the Heifers for 4-H Essay Contest which he entered in June. The contest was started three years ago in Butte-Lawrence county by a family who was looking to “pay-it-forward” after a kind act was done for them following the infamous 2013 Atlas Blizzard that affected many ranch families.

Sisters Laney and Morgan Mackaben, daughters of Chad and Shawnie Mackaben of Belle Fourche each wrote essays after the Atlas blizzard, the girls were 10 and 8 respectively at that time, and each received a heifer from Lusk, Wyoming 4-H members Dax Dockery and Monte Wade and their families.

The Mackaben family, which includes the two girls, their younger brother Clay, and their parents, were so moved by the generosity, that they were determined to find a way to continue passing that kindness forward in the beef industry.

Active in 4-H, the Mackabens were familiar with the Catch-A-Sheep contest held annually at their Butte-Lawrence County Fair. Through that program, several area sheep producers donate ewe lambs to participating individuals who catch a sheep at an event held at the fair. This has served as a way for those 4-H youth to get started in (or grow) their sheep enterprise. Individuals winning a lamb, must bring it back to the fair in following years to show. They also keep a scrapbook and records on their project.

Based on that model, the Mackabens decide a heifer donation project with similar guidelines would have merit. Noting that the region is a strong beef producing area, the family felt it was important to help get young people involved in learning firsthand about the beef industry. They initiated the project in the spring of 2015, requiring interested 4-H youth ages 13 and younger from Butte and Lawrence counties to submit an essay on the topic “What are your goals for your individual future in the beef industry?”

Each year, essays are due mid-June. Finalists are then interviewed during the county fair and the selected recipient is announced during the beef show at the Butte-Lawrence County Fair. Those individuals who are selected must be willing to show their heifer and her offspring at the Butte-Lawrence County Fair for the next four years. They must also create and display a scrapbook documenting their journey with their heifer and what they’ve learned along the way for the first two years of the project. Finally, at the end of four years, they are required to gift a heifer back to the program – to bring it full circle and help another young 4-H’er get a leg up in the beef industry.

4-H member Matilyn Oakes from Fruitdale, was the recipient of the first heifer the Mackabens donated. With guidance from the Mackabens she learned about feeding, breeding and eventually showing. This year she showed the heifer she received – now a cow with her calf at side – at the Butte-Lawrence County Fair and said the project has taught her much about the realities of raising beef cattle. Oakes noted she has enjoyed learning about the industry, and she expressed appreciation for the opportunity to start her own cowherd.

Similarly, Jones, who will be a fifth grader in school this fall, is excited to start growing his own cowherd. He’s shown sheep and a bucket calf in the past, but is eager to get his heifer this fall and start planning for his future. He noted that he wasn’t going to name his heifer until he got to meet her.

Jones said he was thankful for the Mackabens sponsoring such a program, and his mom Nicole noted, “Someday Cody will help someone else grow their herd.”

That’s exactly what the Mackabens hope for the future of the Heifers for 4-H program. Shawnie noted how emotional it was for her family to be the recipients of heifers for their daughters. Ten years from now she says, “We hope to see this program continuing and the kindness continuing.”

Butte-Lawrence County 4-H youth interested in applying for the essay contest in 2018 should contact the Butte-Lawrence 4-H office. Mackaben emphasizes that even for youth with minimal beef background, her family and the 4-H community are willing to assist in caring for and feeding the animal to help individuals get started with the program.

–Heifers for 4-H

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