Calving season is well under way at ranches across the Yampa Valley. For 11 of those ranches, this year's new calves include some milestone births that could have a substantial effect on the agriculture community for years to come.
This is the first spring for the 4-H Bar Cattle Company and its heifer sponsorship program, a program 4-H officials hope will become an annual source of income for the Routt County 4-H Scholarship Committee.
The program began in Dec--ember, when a variety of community members and businesses purchased 11 heifers during a special auction at the Steamboat Smokehouse. The winning bidder for each heifer became the "sponsor" of that heifer.
The ranch families who made the heifers available for auction are the "host" ranches and have agreed to bear the cost of caring for the heifer year after year.
Each heifer produces money for the 4-H scholarship program when it gives birth to a calf. The calves will be sold at market each fall after they're weaned. With a market value of between $500 and $600 per calf, 4-H officials hope the heifer sponsorship program will produce between $5,500 and $6,000 annually.
The goal of the program is eventually to have a herd of 20 calf-bearing heifers, CSU extension agent Jay Whaley said.
"If we can pay for four or five scholarships a year with the calves, it saves from dipping into any of our other investments," Whaley said.
The Routt County 4-H Scholarship Committee began in 1994 with a $500 donation from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. A decade later, the scholarship program has granted more than $104,000 in scholarships to local 4-H youths for their post-secondary educations.
Whaley said that making sure 4-H children have an opportunity to further their educations is important for the agriculture community and the community at-large.
"We see a lot of the kids that go through 4-H return to our community and become important members of the community," Whaley said. "We think it's important to get kids on to school so they can return to our community and be contributing members of society."
But more than simply providing money for 4-H scholarships, the 4-H Bar Cattle Company and its heifer sponsorship program has found a way to connect the agriculture community to the business community and area individuals and organizations.
Heifer sponsors received photographs of their heifers, the host families and the ranches where the calves will be raised.
"It's just a good community connection," Whaley said.
Dean Vogelaar, senior vice president of Mountain Valley Bank, and several other individuals joined together to bid on a heifer at the December auction. Vogelaar agreed that the heifer sponsorship program is a good way to bridge the gap between the agriculture community and those not familiar or associated with it.
He also knows the money he spent on a heifer eventually will be used to help deserving Routt County 4-H students go to college.
"The young people involved in 4-H are all pretty industrious, hard-working young people," Vogelaar said. "It's fun to sponsor a program that supports them."
Mary Kay and Larry Monger own and operate High Tide Ranch on the lower Elk River. The Mongers' ranch is one of the 11 host ranches for the heifer sponsorship program.
Their 4-H heifer gave birth to a calf about four weeks ago, and the Mongers said contributing to the scholarship program is well worth any expense they incur for keeping the heifer on their ranch. Both of their children were 4-H members who benefited from 4-H scholarships.
"I think it's a real easy way to make money for the scholarship," said Mary Kay Monger, who also is a member of the 4-H Scholarship Committee. "It's a payback, too."
Routt County 4-H has about 250 participating members and 90 adult volunteers. Between 20 and 30 4-H students graduate from area high schools each year.
Participation in Routt County 4-H is divided evenly between youngsters who are actively involved in agriculture and those who aren't.
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