Manitoba’s senior 4-H’ers have checked their projects off the to-do list after a marathon weekend in western Manitoba.
The Senior Members Event took over Brandon and Virden Oct. 20-22 with projects ranging from gardening to equine, plus leadership, mentorship and professional skill development.
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In part, the event is intended to help 4-H members balance their club activities with other obligations, organizers said.
“They’re busy, they’ve got lots of stuff going on, so we wanted to bring in a component where they could get their 4-H project requirements finished in a weekend,” 4-H program co-ordinator Courtney Newton said.
The event was geared towards members 15 to 17 years old, an age where membership historically drops off. The council has plans for a similar event aimed at 12- to 14-year-olds later this year.
“This is definitely a way to encourage our senior members to still stay involved in 4-H and allow them to be mentors in their own clubs because you know that the junior members nine to 11 (years old) are looking up to those kids,” Newton said.
There may not have been time to raise a steer, but livestock-focused 4-H’ers carved out a niche with workshops on low-stress cattle handling, pasturing and forage assessment.
Forrest-area producer Ryan Boyd opened his farm to participants, including an up-close look at his swath grazing system, integration of high-density grazing, yearly shifts between grazing systems and fencing equipment.
“I hope they got a slight interest in pasture and forage management and some of the possibilities that may exist and got their eyes opened up to some new ideas,” Boyd said.
An advocate of sustainable beef production, Boyd has been experimenting with forage grazing systems with an eye towards both profit and soil health. Soil structure, biodiversity, building carbon through perennial root systems and nutrient cycling all featured during the farm visit Oct. 21.
“We could all grow soil and increase soil health; that’s easy,” he told the group, noting that the challenge is making money.
Boyd’s pasture got put to the test by provincial forage and rangeland researcher Jane Thornton as part of the event.
Thornton led a small group of attendees through pasture health assessments in the field.
According to the Rangeland Health Assessment, published by Alberta Sustainable Development and referenced by Thornton, tame pasture may be graded by the density of introduced forages compared to what was planted, the proportion of tall, productive forages, the presence of unwanted species in the pasture, how much litter is present to trap in moisture, erosion risk and the presence of human-caused bare soil. The density and spread of noxious weeds and woody regrowth also made the list.
The guide points to the decline of grazing susceptible forages with overgrazing. Plants like alfalfa or taller grasses are a better-quality forage, but may fall behind plants with a lower growing point, like Kentucky bluegrass, if pastures become too closely cropped.
Less appetizing plants may also gain competitive advantage over time as they are left alone while more attractive plants are grazed, Thornton warned, adding that a higher stock density system may help that problem, since cattle stomp down the less appetizing plants, even if they don’t eat them.
“Looking at pasture health is something that a lot of people don’t do and just even training your eyes, whether you want to go through the exercise or not, is really important because it does tune your eye,” Thornton said. “If you grew up on a farm and always saw pastures that were overgrazed, that’s how you perceive pastures. When you take this book and then you take (participants) to an area where it’s different than that and you can see how it can score, they understand that there is a possibility for better than what we currently have.”
Cattle presentations were matched by horse and pony workshops in Virden, while activity club topics and welding scattered members across sites in Brandon.
Attendees must still complete their club’s requirements, including communications, attending meetings and participating in club events, in order to receive achievement awards, Newton said.