HANCOCK COUNTY — 4-H is much more than a childhood pastime. For many, it’s an introduction to interests that often last a lifetime.
Many kids go on to build careers around the things they acquire a passion for through their years in 4-H.
Reed Hedrick has been busy showing pigs and cattle at the Hancock County 4-H fair this week.
As soon as the fair wraps up, however, he’ll turn his attention to starting agribusiness classes at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, where he’ll join the college’s livestock judging team.
Fellow 10-year 4-H member Owen Bishop is also heading to college to study a field he learned to embrace through 4-H — Agricultural Systems Management — which will teach him how to work with farmers and engineers to enhance farming systems.
Juliannah Jenkins, who is also in her 10th year of 4-H this year, plans to study veterinary medicine, an area that’s been the focus of many of her 4-H projects over the years.
All three Hancock County teens say that growing up in 4-H has made an indelible mark on their future career paths.
“4-H definitely impacted my plans,” said Reed. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
The 18-year-old from Shirley mostly focused on showing cattle and pigs over the years, though he has also shown sheep and had a few building projects.
Outside of 4-H, he’s been active in livestock judging for the past six years or so, judging at the mini 4-H beef and pig shows, and traveling to competitions around the country with a livestock judging team.
Livestock judging teams compete by evaluating breeding and market classes of beef cattle, swine and sheep, winning points for the accuracy of their assessments and oral presentations.
Reed said taking part in livestock judging can give team members the skills and connections to one day excel in the livestock industry. It’s the same reason the recent Eastern Hancock High School graduate decided to focus on agribusiness in college.
“Agribusiness will open me up to more possibilities later on, in not just agricultural but the business side as well. I’ve always been interested in running something or owning something myself, so I’ll take a few more econ and business classes to learn all I can,” said Reed, who has thought of becoming an animal nutritionist, among other things.
Owen Bishop, who starts agriculture systems management classes at Purdue University this fall, said his chosen field of study can also lead to a number of different career paths.
“The major has a wide variety of fields you can go into,” said Owen, 18, who was home-schooled and attended Greenfield-Central High School before graduating from high school this year.
In college, he’ll learn to work with farmers to communicate their needs to agricultural engineers, who can use that feedback to enhance farming operations.
Owen thought he’d want to be an agricultural engineer until someone introduced him to the field of agricultural systems management.
The Pendleton teen credits his time in 4-H for exposing him to various facets of agriculture and developing his love for the field.
He’d displayed 4-H projects at the fair from a young age, but didn’t start showing livestock until his family moved to a farm in northern Hancock County about six years ago.
He’s since shown pigs and rabbits, and won fourth overall barrow in the swine show one year.
“That was a great day,” he recalled with a smile.
Owen said the time he’s spent in 4-H — getting up early to feed the animals and clean out their pens before school — has instilled in him a strong work ethic and helped him become the person he is today.
“I grew up watching my cousins show (livestock) at the fair in Kosciusko County, so that’s kind of where my love of agriculture originated,” he said.
Juliannah Jenkins also feels a strong calling to work in a field that she fell in love with through her work in 4-H.
A lifetime animal lover, she was able to explore her love of pets through informative posters she’s created for 4-H over the years.
“I’ve just always loved animals,” she said.
“I’ve always had pet rats and watched my first one have a stroke and die. There aren’t enough vets who treat rodents, so I’d like to go into exotics” in veterinary medicine, said the 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Greenfield-Central High School this year.
She hopes to attend Purdue University after graduating from high school next year, following the path she’s set for herself to achieve her career goals.
Juliannah said the best 4-H poster she’s done was called “The Road to Become a Vet,” which outlined the particular steps it takes, from what high school classes to take to how to secure and pay off student loans.
Another of her favorite posters was called “You Decide,” which outlined the pros and cons of animal procedures like declawing, tail docking and ear cropping. Another of her posters outlined and described the anatomy of a cat.
The Greenfield teen is vice-president of the 4-H llama club and has shown “pocket pets” ever since she was a little girl.
“I love showmanship. I love showing off my animals,” she said.
Juliannah said 4-H has not only motivated her to learn more about animals, but has also taught her leadership skills, especially through the 4-H junior leadership program. It’s also connected her to mentors who have helped lead her in the right direction on her path to become a veterinarian.
“I would still want to be a veterinarian even if I wasn’t in 4-H, but 4-H has definitely fueled my passion,” she said.