GLENDIVE, Mont. – For Dawson County 4-H members, it is not just about winning county fairs or going to the state fair.

Instead, Dawson County 4-H is about the many people that the youth interact with – their parents and 4-H leaders, the county’s 4-H Extension agent, the beef and sheep experts who volunteer to teach them – and especially – the lifelong friends they meet in 4-H.

It is also about being proud of their leadership in 4-H as older 4-H member and ambassadors teach the younger kids, holding offices to support 4-H, and about learning responsibility by finishing their projects and raising and training the animals they show.

Dawson County 4-H is a group of about 60 youth, which includes a unique group of 4-H teen ambassadors.

These teens actually teach the younger kids, passing on the traditions of 4-H. The ambassadors design the meeting, figure out the topic and teach it to the youngest members, the Cloverbuds.

“The Dawson County teen ambassadors hold a Cloverbud Day once a month and invite all county Cloverbuds to come learn about various topics,” said Jaycee Searer, Dawson County ag Extension agent, who is also the 4-H agent. “They meet in the afternoon and teach the younger kids a lesson, do an activity, and have a snack together.”

Two ambassadors of the Dawson County 4-H, Kelty Raciborski and Britta Brenner, spoke about 4-H and about being an ambassador.

Raciborski, who is also the captain of the 4-H ambassadors, said she enjoys leading the Cloverbud meetings with the other ambassadors.

“We try to be creative and find new activities to attract the kids’ attention so they enjoy the meeting and learn,” she said.

In addition, parents hear about the Cloverbud meetings from their 4-H Cloverbuds, and she hope it “helps parents decide to become 4-H leaders. We need leaders.”

As an ambassador, she helps promote 4-H to the community and represents 4-H to the community.

“We promote 4-H and its programs, such as the four 4-H pledge of hands, heart, head and health,” Raciborski said. The pledge is composed of concepts that 4-H members live by: pledging your head to clearer thinking; your heart to greater loyalty; your hands to larger service; and your health to better living.

The 4-H ambassadors have helped with fundraisers, such as a 5K race for the community they serve.

They help with a 4-H day camp and help the community and the state as a whole with various 4-H promotions. The idea is to bring more youth into 4-H and to help the younger kids, the Cloverbuds, do different activities and learn about 4-H.

If a Cloverbud needs help with a 4-H project, the 4-H ambassadors are the first ones to offer help, Raciborski said.

The 4-H ambassadors are the ones asked to be in the booths at the 4-H booth at the GATE show, the county fair and other events – they represent 4-H in Dawson County.

Brenner said, as a 4-H ambassador, she has helped run the Cloverbud meetings with the other ambassadors.

“It is a lot of work being an ambassador, but I like it,” she said. “Before COVID-19 stopped our meetings, we were teaching our Cloverbuds about plants and pollinators, so their lessons, activities, and snacks were all based on that subject.”

Raciborski joined 4-H many years ago

When Kelty Raciborski moved to Montana with her family, she became more involved with ag.

“Dad had cattle and he had been involved in 4-H as a kid in Oregon, so he thought I should try it, too,” she said.

She joined and really became involved with all aspects of 4-H.

“I decided I wanted to show cattle and sheep,” Raciborski said. From her dad and 4-H leaders, she learned about livestock and how to raise and train them for show.

“Dad showed me how to show cattle,” she said.

But Raciborski began with showing sheep the first year when she was 9 years old. By her third year, she was showing a sheep, a market hog, and a steer at the county fair – learning about feeding and caring for the animals, as well as training and showing them.

Along the way in 4-H, she has shown many small and large animals, including beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, horses, goats, cats and dogs, and chickens.

Raciborski remembers buying a baby lamb from a local rancher and learning how to raise it with a bottle.

She has won awards through the years, and remembers winning Junior Showman her first year.

But it is the people she has met that have meant the most to her in 4-H.

“I have met good friends in 4-H and we help each other and help the Cloverbuds,” she said.

Raciborski also bought her own Simmental crossbred herd, which now consists of 10 cows, most of which have calves.

With her herd, she breeds the heifers and cows in their ranch’s AI program, and has learned about genetics from that.

“We are careful which cow is bred to a bull’s semen. We don’t want to lose a calf, so calving ease is something we look for,” she said.

4-H has pushed her to learn more about agriculture. She learned about cattle DNA, genetics, breeding, calving, and herd health, with her dad’s help.

Raciborski has tried nearly every program that Dawson County 4-H has to offer, including the 4-H Congress.

Though they haven’t been able to meet in-person over the last couple of months, they have been having 4-H virtual meetings and learning over the computer.

“I am also really interested in showing my animals at the Junior Simmental Association’s Show, but I am not sure if they will still have it this year because of COVID-19,” Raciborski said.

Raciborski plans to attend Montana State University at Bozeman this fall in animal science. Eventually, she would like to get a degree in genetics.

Brenner active in Dawson County 4-H

Britta Brenner started in 4-H years ago, and she has been actively involved in the Dawson County 4-H program during that time.

“4-H is like a big family. We all know each other and are friends. Just about every 4-H leader will help anyone with any project,” she said.

Brenner, who started Dawson Community College last fall, is also an ambassador.

“If you work hard and put in the time and effort, 4-H can teach you the importance of sticking with something,” she said. “It teaches responsibility.”

Brenner grew up on a ranch, and her dad runs Black Angus registered cow/calf pairs.

At the county fair, Brenner said she appreciated the help from one of her 4-H leaders when she needed to show both a goat and a steer, back-to-back.

“My leader held my steer for me while I showed my goat. Then she held my dairy goat. I was so grateful to her,” Brenner said.

Goats are a little harder to raise, and Brenner hasn’t bred goats lately. She showed her goat as a dry dairy goat.

“When baby goats are first born, you need to dry them off right away so they don’t freeze. But once they get bigger and start eating better, they do well,” she said.

A horse and steer are the only large animal projects she has shown in the ring at the fair. Brenner mostly shows small animals: dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs and sheep in 4-H.

“When you are in the ring at the fair, the judges ask different questions about your animals, such as the different breeds for the species,” she explained.

Brenner said steers and other animals need to “make weight” in order to be shown.

“One year, my steer was 10 pounds too small to be shown, so I have worked at that every year. Animals might also be too heavy to be shown, as well,” she said.

With help from her dad, Brenner has learned about genetics, and how to choose which bull semen to AI to a particular cow.

“I am learning about breeding and genetics,” she added.

Brenner has had a lot of fun in 4-H and met many friends. She plans to earn a degree in criminal justice.

“I am looking at a career as a brand inspector or game warden, and for game warden, you need a criminal justice degree,” she said.

According to Searer, because of COVID-19, the Dawson County Fair in June has been cancelled. “However, there is another fair for youth – the 4-H and FFA Fair in July – and we are planning it now. It will look slightly different than past years,” Searer said. “We do hope that we can offer an event for our 4-H members to display their projects.” 

The Southeastern 4-H Camp and the Montana 4-H Congress events have also been cancelled for this year.

“We are offering these events virtually this year so the kids can still partake in certain activities that would have been offered if we were able to meet face-to-face,” she said.

In addition, they postponed the Dawson County 4-H Clover Run and are looking for a date in early summer to host the event.