By Tom Collins
METCALFE — A 17-year-old Leeds County 4-H member says she was a bundle of nerves during the 4-H show during this year’s Metcalfe Fair but she was good at hiding it.
Vanessa Birt says she gets extremely nervous during a show, whether it be a 10-competitor local show or a bigger one like the 4-H regional dairy show.
“When I’m in the ring, I get so nervous that I’m constantly thinking of everything I’m doing wrong and not so much as of what I’m doing right,” Vanessa said. She said at the 4-H regional show, she thought she had messed up on multiple things, such as being too slow to switch her calf’s feet or to set her up after she was spooked.
However, judge Kyle McLeod of Embro thought differently, choosing Vanessa as grand champion showperson. He said Vanessa was swift with setting the calf’s feet, was attentive to the judge, and seemed to be very calm and relaxed with her movements.
“I was shaking, I was sweating, and he said I looked so relaxed and I knew everything I needed to do and when to do them,” she laughed.
After winning the showmanship, snapping a few pictures with her calf and shedding a few tears of joy, Vanessa had to immediately jump back in the ring for the Jersey conformation competition. Her calf, RJF Victorious Mist, was named top Jersey calf, and was reserve grand champion of all the breeds.
The calf is owned by Richard and Susanna Shane of Donnaville Holsteins at Lyn, just west of Brockville. Vanessa doesn’t live on a farm, and first got interested in showing after her sister was involved in 4-H. “I was surprised at how well she could have a connection with a calf,” she said.
The trick to success, she says, is to spend as much time with the calf as possible. Aside from school and other extracurricular activities, she also holds down two part-time jobs in the summer and one during the school year. Still, she tries to get out to the farm every day to see her calf.
She mixes up the training between hard-working and leisurely days. On the hard-working days, she takes her calf to different areas of the farm to practice in new areas to get the animal used to doing different things in different places. On the leisurely days, she simply washes her calf or takes her for a walk so the calf can get used to Vanessa’s presence.
After years of showing Holsteins, this was her first year showing a Jersey. They’re easier to work with but they have a bit of an attitude, she said.
“She’s just the right height for me,” Vanessa said, referring to their smaller stature. “I find they’re very swift on their feet, they move so elegantly, and it’s just absolutely beautiful watching them walk.”
Vanessa is in her last year of high school, and is planning to go to the University of Guelph next year for her bachelor of science before heading to veterinarian school. She is going to the Royal in November, and will show Jerseys in the future if she continues showing.
“I’m not sure if I can continue once school starts,” she said. “I need to stay devoted to that instead.”
EASTERN ONTARIO: 4-H member switches to showing Jersey, wins Metcalfe Fair
By Tom Collins