There are close to 1,800 total 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) entries in the Tulare County Fair this year. A small niche of those come from the Fernandes family, members of Oakdale 4-H in Tulare.
The Fernandes’ are a family of dairy farmers. It is only natural that their children are involved in the dairy division of 4-H and FFA. But this does not mean they have any advantage over other children, as they have to follow the same rules, regulations and procedures as anyone else.
Each year, the Fernandes fathers and uncles select 25-30 young cows and then it is up to the children to choose their own project cow. The same is true for other 4-H Oakdale members who participate in dairy livestock.
Maddie Fernandes, 13, and her brother, Frankie, 10, each chose a Jersey calf to begin their new project. Dairy projects are two-year stints–actually 18 months–in which the 4-H member raises a calf into a young cow, gets her bred, and eventually sells her either while pregnant and ready to calf, or having just calved prior to sale.
Many of those involved in dairy projects have more than one project cow at a time – one in the first year and one in the second. They may also have cows of more than one breed. However, they must choose one cow to show in showmanship; that cow and the others may each be shown in their perspective breed class.
The Fernandes family dairy houses Jerseys and Holsteins. Maddie chooses Jerseys, she said, “Because the Holsteins are just too big for me.”
She has been in 4-H since she was in kindergarten and has shown for the past four years, having sold two of her cows at auction to date.
Maddie and Frankie’s older sister, Hayley, was also involved in 4-H and has now become quite active in FFA since starting at Mission Oak High School.
Unlike her younger siblings, Hayley chooses Holstein’s to work with, although they are a little harder to keep clean, she said.
Starting a new cow takes quite a bit of time.
“During the summer, we come out (to the dairy) all most every day,” Hayley said. “Now that school has started, we come out twice on the weekend, and as much during the week as we can.”
Starting around the first of July, those involved in Oakdale 4-H and Mission Oak FFA dairy projects start getting their new project animals used to them. A good bonding time is bath time, Hayley said. While some baths are just a hose-off to cool the animals down, Holstein’s take more shampooing time to keep their white areas from staining.
The animals are walked for about 30 minutes per session to get them accustomed to the procedures that will be required in the ring for showmanship, as well as breed and age competitions. They are also taught to stand properly to show off their best features.
Hayley has become quite involved in showing and plans a future in the dairy business as well as maintaining a show string of her own. She has started her own prefix name “Haisley,” and her future calves will use that prefix in their registered names.
“I most definitely will be in some aspect of the dairy business,” she said.
Cousins Luke Fernandes, 11, Jacob Fernandes, 13, and friend Arie Prins, 13, also show.
Prins said he started showing after his sister showed one of Maddie Fernandes’ cows.
“I thought I’d try it,” he said, and he has become hooked.
He was not new to cows, as his family has a business building specified machinery for dairies, he said. But he was new to working with them and showing them.
Like many 4-H members, Prins is into other aspects of the club, including metal working, for which his father is leader.
“I like 4-H,” he said, “because you get to choose what activity you get to do.”
As such, Luke Fernandes enjoys shooting sports more than most other activities, he said. Shooting sports have their own competition and is not offered at the fair.
Jacob Fernandes is very active in showmanship and won the showmanship class for his age group at the 4-H Fair in April. He then competed against other age group winners in a round-robin, in which the group winners show other types of livestock beyond what they had exhibited on their own. Jacob also won the Supreme Championship Dairy Cattle division at the 4-H Fair, which was held during the Antique Farm Equipment Show.
It is important, Jacob said, to avoid getting infraction points.
A slight infraction could be putting a halter on incorrectly, walking the course incorrectly or carrying a cellphone in your back pocket, he said.
A moderate would be hitting an animal inappropriately and a severe infraction resulting in disqualification would be doing that repeatedly, he said.
“There’s a lot of responsibility and there is a risk,” said Jerod Fernandes, Jacob’s father. “Something could happen to the cow, or she may not become pregnant, or could abort (at which point she could not be offered for auction).”
Each 4-H member must purchase their own livestock. In dairy, that is about a $1,200 investment. Then, they are responsible for feeding the animal and any veterinary costs. By the time the cow is ready for sale, there is $2,000 or more invested in her, and she may sell for around $2,500. With any luck, the 4-H member may make a small profit.
Natalie Mederos has been community leader of Oakdale 4-H for 25 years. She and her husband became quite active when their children were involved and have remained so, now seeing their grandchildren following in their footsteps.
Oakdale has close to 100 members, Mederos said, of which about one-third participate in the Tulare County Fair and one-half participate in the 4-H Fair. Most are involved in livestock including dairy, cattle, hogs, sheep and rabbits. Many have an interest in shooting sports and photography. Still others participate in other indoor activities including scrapbooking, jams and jellies, cake decorating and other baking and crafts.
Her granddaughter, Michaela, is involved in hogs, photography and cake decorating.
“4-H is great for the kids,” Mederos said. “and they put their all into it.”
There is a lot of community service involved in 4-H too, she said.
“If they really put themselves out, they really benefit from it,” she said.
Tulare County 4-H had 14 active clubs with 832 children for the year 2014-2015, said Rochelle Mederos, 4-H program representative for Tulare County. Adult volunteer involvement is 270. Children must be between 5-19 years of age to be a 4-H member. Adult volunteers must be 18 or older and cannot still be enrolled as a member. Chaperones are 21 years and older.
“The upcoming Tulare County Fair is an opportunity for 4-H member to show off what they learned and produced during the past (2014-2015) 4-H Youth Development Program year,” Rochelle Mederos said.
Enrollment information can be found at: http://ucanr.edu/sites/4-H_Tulare/ Interested youth and adults should contact the local club leaders for more information about projects offered, meeting times and enrollment procedures.
Entries for the Tulare County Fair have closed. There are 592 total 4-H entries for the fair, 495 of which are in the livestock division. There are 1,201 FFA entries, 1172 of which are in the livestock division, according to fair staff.
Judging of livestock and indoor exhibits starts on Wednesday, September 16. The Junior Livestock Sale will be held on Saturday, September 19 at 9am. For more information, visit www.tcfair.org.