Teenage livestock expert Gracie Campbell’s 4-H experience has changed her life
Story by Jaya Patil, photos by Tiffany Campbell
Have you ever met a teenager with nearly a decade of work experience? Gracie Campbell is one such phenomenon, having competed in livestock showing since her Pee Wee 4-H days around age six. Her mother, Tiffany Campbell, is a Warrenton native and grew up on a farm working with cows as a 4-H alum herself. Gracie’s interest in cows was sparked by a show-and-sale that her mother took her to years ago in Harrisonburg. Nine years later, Gracie is a seasoned member of the youth livestock 4-H club and multiple-show contestant, well-versed in the life lesson of working for what you have.
Cattle working and livestock judging look wildly different, but both require a comfort around livestock that is hard-earned. In typical cattle working competitions a team of three kids cooperate to administer common health procedures for a heifer—such as vaccinate, deworm, implant, and tag—in a timely manner, with the fastest time winning. On the slower side of things, livestock judging is won by the most time and effort a contestant has put into their show animal. “The animal knows the person,” says Tiffany, as judging highlights who has developed a close relationship with their star. While cattle working runs on speed and efficiency, being patient and meticulous fuels success when showing livestock. Contestants must know their animal inside and out, from the details of their diet to the way their hair falls after cleaning.
Gracie’s contact with cattle doesn’t end in the ring. The Campbell family keep their retired show animals on Gracie’s grandparents’ sprawling Warrenton farm to graze and calve. Gracie and her family make the short drive up Route 17 to the animals daily, whether it’s to check on a pregnant cow or distribute hay to the herd during winter. On their own 26 acres in Midland they take care of their show animals and the rest of the crew. Housed on their land now is one show heifer, two home-bred and owned twins of a retired show cow, a bottle calf, one mini Hereford heifer, two goats, and two dogs. A family of that magnitude comes with plenty of responsibility to go around, but no obstacle is too great, as five-year-old Shelby Campbell demonstrated when she liked to take her big sister Gracie’s show heifer for walks despite the size discrepancy. Shelby is now the owner of the just-right mini Hereford heifer she received as a Christmas gift.
Like many 4-H members, Gracie’s passion is poured into other 4-H programs and activities inside and outside of school. When she’s not playing volleyball or blasting country music in her barn, Gracie loves to kick up dust on her 4-wheeler, capture moments with her new Canon EOS, and go fishing in her favorite spot—the pond at home. Gracie submits her photos, along with sewing projects and baked goods, at the annual Fauquier County fair in the 4-H exhibit building. As Sarah Bullard, Fauquier County’s Youth Livestock Educator at the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Warrenton, points out, “4-H is incredibly multifaceted so there’s something for everybody.” While the fair offers the chance for every 4-H kid to share their hard work over the past year, Gracie also enjoys it for the same reason anyone would—the scent of funnel cake, laughter among friends, and the embrace of summer on everyone’s shoulders.
4-H reaches far beyond a single fair, with contests in local counties as well as nationwide. Gracie has been able to travel along the east coast from New Jersey to Tennessee through showing livestock, meeting people along the way and building a network stretching across the country. 4-H teaches everyone how flexible the definition of “community” is, from the 15+ Fauquier 4-H clubs to the dozens of local farms that offer their livestock for judging and cattle working practices. One of Mrs. Campbell’s fellow 4-H members as a child is her friend to this day; their families attend shows together and open their homes to one another. The Campbells show us that community can be found in our county just as much as halfway across the globe.
Both her mother and Mrs. Bullard attest to how Gracie’s “confidence and personality [have] blossomed,” noting her tremendous growth during her time in the 4-H program. “[4-H] gives you the opportunity to lead and to find what your passion is,” says Sarah, and the scope of opportunities is only limited by your imagination. New clubs are regularly formed when kids bring their unique interests to the table and catalyze the production of a new program, as was the case with the robotics club. Equipped with leadership and passion, personal growth comes with supporting your community as Fauquier 4-H is doing with their new poultry-service learning project aimed at raising hens and broilers to supply local food pantries with eggs and meat.
Gracie raves about the friendly environment of 4-H and how it has changed her life, giving her skills to shape how holistically she lives her life. Sarah encourages kids to seek out opportunities to see what fits, “but take advantage of ones that scare you a little bit because that’s where you can grow and find your place.” From a program based in learning by doing, we are invited to find growth in fear and strength in struggle. Whether you have the chance to join 4-H, know someone who could get involved, or not, the lessons learned through 4-H and Gracie’s experiences illustrate a correlation between community and resiliency. It can be found in the Sunday dinners at the Campbell house where family and friends gather and start the week with love to carry them through hard work. It can be found in the axe-throwing, fishing, four-wheeling, and kickball games that kept Gracie and her family active amid an isolating pandemic. If anyone knows how to push through, it’s Gracie Campbell in every time she wakes before dawn and works through dusk. As Gracie advises, “even when it gets hard, you have to keep on trying.”
You can learn more about Gracie and Fauquier 4-H at the Fauquier County Fair, July 14-17
You can learn more about 4-H programs at fauquier.ext.ve.edu