Bradley Tripp had worked with his calf Nibbler since June 17, visiting Alexandre Dairy every other day to feed and walk it, so when he was told to switch calves with another youngster last week, he grew nervous.
After a few minutes, though, the 8-year-old decided his worries were unfounded.
"This is as easy as my calf," Bradley told his mother, Mavis Tripp.
"You can't fall in love with somebody else's cow," Tripp retorted.
Bradley and about 40 other youngsters thronged the Alexandre front lawn July 15, each leading a 3-month old calf. Some calves followed their caretakers without complaint. Others refused to budge or dragged their keeper in the opposite direction.
The Alexandres have hosted the Bucket Calf Project for 19 years at their dairy on Lower Lake Road. Stephanie Alexandre said she and her husband Blake started the project to introduce their kids' friends to the agriculture and dairy industries.
Realizing that it would be a good project for additional kids, the Alexandres have since hosted the project as a 4-H community service endeavor.
"In the past we've had anywhere from 25 to 40 (kids). Last year we had 50," Stephanie Alexandre said. "This year, since it got posted on Facebook, it's become real popular. We peaked at 100 kids."
Roughly 80 youngsters and their families have stuck with the program this year, Alexandre said.
Alexandre said the name "bucket calf" refers to the fact that the calves are still drinking milk as opposed to grazing in the fields. She has also promoted the program as an "adopt-a-calf" program.
Children as young as 6 start the Bucket Calf Project by choosing a calf, most of which were born in April or May this year. The children learn to lead the calves on ahalter, stand them correctly in front of a judge and they learn how to work with them before judges as a team. The project will culminate with a special show at the Del Norte County Fair at noon Aug. 2.
"The judge will ask you when your calf was born or how old they are," Alexandre told her group of youngsters. "Three to four months old is a good answer. These are young calves."
Judges will also want the youngsters to know what their calf's breed is, said Vanessa Alexandre, Stephanie's daughter who helps lead the program. The children have been working with Jerseys, holsteins or a cross between the two, she said.
Many youngsters who start out participating in the Bucket Calf project go on to participate in 4-H, Grange and FFA, Stephanie Alexandre said.
"We do get some kids that find jobs in ag or go to ag school," she said, adding that many youngsters love working with their calves so much they visit the dairy three to five times a week. "It warms our hearts to see the kids working with calves fall in love with them."
Pam Wilder said her 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth wanted to get involved with the program as a potential precursor to joining 4-H. Wilder said she's not sure if she's ready for the commitment that taking on an animal project can entail.
So far though Elizabeth seems to have taken to the hard work raising a farm animal requires, Wilder said.
"She wants to come back every week and come on off days to show off her calf to family," Wilder said.
Twelve-year-old Zoe McManus, who is in her second year in the Bucket Calf project, will also participate in the fair's dairy show on Aug. 1. Zoe said when she appears before the judges with her heifer, she'll also be raising money for Lola Wiley, a Mountain School student who is battling leukemia. She even named her calf Lola.
"When I go to the fair I'll (present) a bucket for change for Lola Wiley," Zoe said.
Mavis Tripp said she has two kids participating in the Bucket Calf Project. In addition to Bradley and Nibbler the calf, her daughter Jasmine is working with a heifer named Brownie.
Tripp said she grew up in 4-H and has encouraged her kids to get involved. In addition to Nibbler, Bradley will be showing poultry at the fair while Jasmine will be showing her pig Oreo. Since they're already experienced with farm animals, her kids are able to share that experience with other kids, Tripp said.
"Bradley is sharing his cow with another one of the kids because he's been working with it so well," she said. "My kids get to help others."
For more information about Del Norte 4-H, visit the organization's Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/pages/Del-Norte_4-Hor call 464-4711.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.