Beef feeder steers pilotedPublished 10:06pm Thursday, August 5, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS — Domonick Gregory, 11, and Kiley Lowery, 10, have the distinction of being the first champion and reserve champion in the pilot beef feeder project launched by the Hawkins family — Bob, Gayle and daughter Nicki, 24.
As a demonstration project, it will be evaluated to see if there is enough interest to warrant making it a permanent part of the fair.
Hawkins said he wants all kids to have an opportunity to participate without the expense of purchasing a calf or needing to live on a farm.
Nine participants come from very diverse backgrounds, including inner-city youths who came out to stay with grandparents.
They all went to the Hawkins farm, picked an animal, halter broke them and worked throughout the weeks leading up to the fair.
They cleaned stalls and learned to wash and groom their calf in preparation for the 159th fair this week.
Some of these kids had never been close to an animal before, let alone been responsible for one.
Mrs. Hawkins said it was a learning experience for all involved that formed new friendships for a great time working together.
They all hope the program can evolve and expand in summers to come.
Nicki Hawkins sponsored the trophies Domonick and Kiley received.
Beef feeder calves were also raised by Hannah Beckwith, Donyella Jackson, Zack Newton, Karim Richie, Sidiq Richie and Colin Snyder.
“We worked with these kids, who had 11 animals, the last two months,” Bob said Wednesday.
“They picked them out in May. The only one who had any experience was my granddaughter. Three kids live with their grandparents in the summer, and where they live they have no opportunity to have animals. They needed something to do for the summer.
“One lives in inner-city Chicago. Two boys live in inner-city Atlanta, Ga. They broke these animals and did the whole nine yards, even though they’ve never been around animals before. We worked with them. Our youngest girl (Nicki) shows on the national circuit. She helped fine-tune them. I was with them every day because not all of the kids came at the same time.”
“They started the learning process in a box stall,” Hawkins said. “Bonding. Handling them, hugging them, loving them, washing them. Then they started working with them with lead ropes.”
The animals were much smaller at 4 months old and weighed 250 to 300 pounds.
“They were on the bottle the first four months, running wild with mom out in the lot,” Hawkins said. “Dairy feeders, they get them a week after they’re born. These ran in the fields for four months — until we weaned them off cows in June. They picked whichever one they wanted from 40 calves.”
“Honestly,” he mused, “these kids exceeded anything I imagined. I never thought they would just do what they did. You’re talking about kids who when they picked up a lead rope and saw poop on it” they recoiled in horror at the filth.
“They overcome all that. I’m as proud of these kids as any parent could be and they’re not even my kids. Herb Miller, the beef superintendent, told me this morning he’s had nothing but positive feedback. We’re hoping to have an answer by the end of the fair. From all we’re hearing, it looks like a go.”