Nadine Laity flops down on her knees. Her worn jeans are tucked into green-bottomed Wellies. Two thick mud-coloured hoodies protect her from the late winter chill. A single long braid hangs down to the middle of her back, from underneath an oversized black baseball cap that shields her eyes from the sun as she pulls open the yellow tape measure and stretches it to the ground.
Her older brother, Jeremy, 14, holds securely onto the purple plastic calf halter that surrounds an amber and white snout, the rope hugging the bottom of the calf’s eyes before encircling the back of the its head.
Two oversized ears stick out, as if on springs, one bearing a stark black and white tag, No. 914.
Valentine, born on Feb. 14, stands obediently outside the red and white barn, staring straight ahead. Nadine, 9, records Valentine’s height, from the bottom of the hoof to the base of a level that her father, Matthew Laity, holds across the top of the calf’s back. Then the level is rotated so it runs along the length of Valentine’s back to measure the straightness of the backbone.
Just two weeks old, Valentine weighs 114 pounds and is 30.5 inches tall.
Nadine and Jeremy are members of the Golden Ears 4-H Community Club, in the dairy division. Members meet once a month at the Laity’s historic farm on 123rd Avenue in Maple Ridge to measure and track their animal’s growth.
“You measure the height from the bottom of the first foot to the shoulder, called the withers. And then we measure around the barrel,” said Jeremy, indicating the area around the calf’s chest, right behind the front legs and around the back.
“That is called the heart girth. And you measure that in inches.”
Then there is a special tape that measures in pounds instead of inches and by measuring the same area you can tell the calf’s weight.
The height of the calf is important.
“You can’t have the cow looking silly,” said Jeremy. “You don’t want this little kid with a mammoth cow, you don’t want a huge kid with a little cow. You just want a cow that looks good with its handler.
“One that will look good on you come show time.”
In anticipation of the end of the season fairs, calves are chosen with prudence.
“You look for the kid’s height and then you try and find a calf that will be the right height for the kid,” said Jeremy.
“So, for me, I look for a calf that was born around October or September, ’cause by the time we show them at the Maple Ridge fair, it will be at the right place on me.”
“Well, I was looking for like a pretty little one,” Nadine said of her calf Valentine. “So, January or February, so she was born February 14, and she has good legs. She’s built straight and strong.”
Now that the dairy children have chosen their calves, once a month they will record their measurements and weight in journals until the end of the season at the end of August.
This year is the fifth year for the Golden Ears 4-H Community Club that was started by Deanna and Matthew Laity.
There are 20 members of the five-year-old club, including nine who are new to 4-H (head, heart, hands, and health), itself a 100-year-old organization.
Only two members of the local club actually live on a farm.
“There was a need to start it,” Deanna said of the club.
“It is a community club, so it’s not just for the large animals. You know, we’ve had other projects, like cooking and gardening and there’s also self-determined projects.”
They wanted a club that bridged the urban-rural boundary – one that becomes more blurred every year with sprawling housing developments.
For the Laity family, 4-H is a natural fit.
Nadine and Jeremy are the great-great grandchildren of Algernon Laity, the son of John Henry Laity, who settled in Maple Ridge in 1879 and started Brookfield Farm with dairy cows and prize cattle, as well as sheep and district’s first silo.
Matthew and Deanna Laity now help run Brookfield Farm.
Jeremy has been participating in 4-H clubs for six years, while this is the first year Nadine will have an animal project.
Until now, she has been a member of the Cloverbuds, a division of the 4-H club for six- to eight-year-olds, in which they learn about all about 4-H and go on field trips.
This year the club has five divisions: dairy, outdoor living, foods or cooking, sheep, and Cloverbuds.
“This year one of their things is sheep, so they will go and visit some new lambs, and they are doing bees, so they are probably going to go to Dr. Bees in Pitt Meadows,” Deanna said of the Cloverbuds.
Nadine is looking forward to preparing her calf for the upcoming fairs.
The cows will be judged on how they are expected to produce milk.
“You want a deeper calf and a longer calf. Like the deeper the calf the more food they can hold to produce milk, generally,” Jeremy said.
But, the cows are also judged on presentation.
“It gets a little anxious, yeah,” said Jeremy. “Because we wake up at normally about three in he morning the day of because the shows are normally around 10 o’clock. And we bathe them. We make sure they are all clean then we dry them. And then we fancy them up before the show.”
The ears are cleaned using baby wipes, and the hooves are polished. Using a blow dryer, the hair along the back of the calf is blown upwards and trimmed with scissors until it is perfectly straight like a ruler across.
“By the end they are, like, spotless. It’s actually kind of incredible. They are cleaner than us,” said Jeremy.
Golden Ears 4-H
Members of Golden Ears 4-H will be participate in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Countryfest in July, and at both the Agrifair in Abbotsford and PNE in Vancouver in August. To learn more, visit Golden Ears 4-H.