Thurston County sprawls across small-town farms and bustling city dwellings. This means that 4-H clubs in the county have everything from STEAM projects to market animals. Madison Keller is a lifelong 4-H member who is prepping for her ninth year at the Thurston County Fair happening July 26-30, 2023.
Madison, who is heading into the 11th grade this fall, belongs to the Jr. 12’s 4-H Club. “I have been in 4-H for nine years,” she says. “I’ve shown as a Pee Wee for two years, I have shown my breeding cattle for seven years, and I have done a market lamb each year for the last four years. I also occasionally show goats.” Pee Wees are kids who are not yet 5 years old, and so cannot officially join 4-H as Cloverbuds.
This year, Madison will be at the Thurston County Fair with her Suffolk-Hampshire cross market lambs, as well as her black angus cattle. Her cattle, however, are not a market project this year, but a breeding project. “The main difference between showing breeding cattle and market steers at the fair is the auction,” explains Madison. “Steers are being judged based off of the meat they could provide, whereas breeding cattle get judged based on their performance to calf, and the qualities they could pass down to their calves.”
Breeding projects also take a lot longer for the 4-Hers to raise. This year’s market lamb, named Romeo, is six months old, Madison has been raising him for the last three months since they purchased him. Her show breeding cattle, on the other hand, she has been raising for six years. “My younger heifer, Athena, is currently a yearling,” Madison adds. Since they are judged on their calving and the qualities they can pass down, it takes a lot more time to raise them up.
In addition to raising her animals, Madison also attended this year’s WSU 4-H State Teen Conference held in June. During the conference, 4-H members that had completed eighth grade or above were invited to the Pullman Campus of Washington State University. They got to stay in the dormitories, eat the cafeteria, attend workshops and tours that highlighted career opportunities and helped with things like scholarship and college applications. “The 4-H Teen Conference was very fun, and very busy as well,” Madison shares. “They filled our days with many great activities. For this being my first time, I’d say I had a great time. Most importantly I learned to get out of my comfort zone!!”
Madison was also on the Thurston County Livestock Judging Team that went to state.
Thurston County Fair Show Days
Once at the fair, however, and it takes Madison just as long to get her show cow ready as does a market steer. “Depending on the number of animals I show that day, my beef can take me up to three hours to get ready for a show, my lambs can take me up to two hours from start to finish, which is pretty similar with goats as well,” Madison shares.
In addition, she has to remember ring times for the multiple animals and barns, since she is showing more than one species. “A big challenge for me can sometimes be balancing out my time getting each animal ready, and which barns I’m in for what amount of time, especially because my animals are kept in more than one barn,” she adds.
But that doesn’t stop her from enjoying the fair. “Some main activities I always look forward to, is Livestock Judging, Round Robin, and most importantly the Thurston County Youth Market Animal Sale Auction!” Madison says.
A family affair, Madison has siblings and cousins in 4-H as well. As many know, farm life takes all-hands to manage the work and they are often family businesses. In addition to all her farm work, Madison is also enrolled in South Puget Sound Community College’s Running Start program for Fall 2023. The program allows students to start taking college courses for college credits at no cost while still in high school.
Head to the Thurston County Fair this year to meet Madison and her projects. Be sure to ask her questions, 4-H members are proud of their work and eager to share it with you. To learn more about joining 4-H, visit the WSU Extension website.