Family Ties: Growing Kids, Animals and Friendships With 4-H Livestock Shows

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Hannah Devall

It’s not an unusual sight to see families huddled around the barn during livestock shows. Whether they’re sharing a quick meal or preparing to walk in the show ring, you can find the LeLeu family together in the barn come show season. Mike and Tracie LeLeu, along with their three children, Lanie, 14; Cullen, 12; and Hallie, 9, own and operate Teche Ridge Farms in Arnaudville, Louisiana. What started as a love of cows for Tracie and a desire for their children to be involved with agriculture has grown to include a registered Beefmaster herd, as well as commercial beef and dairy heifers, goats, pigs, rabbits and poultry.

When livestock show season comes up in conversation, this family immediately thinks about seeing friends, roping cattle dummies between classes and having hard work pay off when in the ring. No matter what the task, the LeLeu family does it together.

The 4-H livestock project starts when an exhibitor and their family purchase a livestock animal to care for and raise. Exhibitors learn about providing housing, nutrition, veterinary care, record keeping, and how to prepare an animal to perform its best on show day, which is when the animal will compete against others similar in age or weight for ribbons and other awards. Local youth development agents assist the family in learning about the project and provide educational opportunities such as workshops or clinics for 4-H members to get together and increase their livestock project knowledge. The LeLeu family knew they wanted to embark on a livestock project, so they started off with one goat.

The next year, the family bought a couple of commercial dairy heifers for Lanie and Cullen to show. Looking back on that first year with cows, Mike said, “I wish I knew to not be overwhelmed by the overall livestock show experience because we have met so many people who are willing to help and teach us as we go.”

The family spends countless hours in the barn and pasture working with their animals. Side by side, they recently fenced off 20 acres to have more room to grow their herd. Cullen’s favorite part of his livestock project is preparing the supplements and feed for his heifers while watching their formation take place in preparation for the show. Hallie, now in fourth grade, will have the chance to walk into the show ring for the first time this year. She has helped with the work for years but finally gets to see what it feels like to go into the ring.

Once the LeLeus get to the show barn, they can be found setting up a picnic table in their aisle or the space near where their animals are kept. Their setup is not just a table but includes snacks, drinks and meals around the clock to welcome any family members and visitors that may stop by.

The family affair doesn’t stop in the barn and pasture at home. Their grandparents make it a priority to be at every show, which makes a huge impact on the family atmosphere. You can find aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends — new and old — gathered around the LeLeus. The crew visits and prepares both animals and kids for the show ring while developing lifelong friendships. And you can always find Paw Paw Carline, Tracie’s father, with a proud tear in his eye when the judge places his grandkids in class.

Mike and Tracie follow the common 4-H expression, “Learn by doing.” The entire family is learning more about their livestock through research and continuing to establish their relationship with a local veterinarian. In the future, the family hopes to sell their beef as well as help local students become exhibitors to extend the Teche Ridge Farms show team.

When asked why they maintain involvement in the 4-H livestock project, parents Mike and Tracie said they see their kids learning time management, responsibility, ethics, health and the knowledge needed to maintain the family farm on their own in the future. Tracie added that she can barely believe the confidence and public speaking skills that her children possess. She attributes those skills to the opportunities available in the 4-H program. She is in awe at how confidently her children walk into interviews and engage in public speaking adventures due to those fundamental skills being taught through their 4-H projects.

Working with families like the LeLeus can be a joy for their 4-H agent as well. The openness to learning and willingness to help others is the best definition of a stock show family.

The LeLeu children see the opportunities being presented to them through sacrifice by their parents. They also see that if they work together, they can do anything. From the halters on their heifers to the connections with those around them, the ties are strong with the LeLeu family and 4-H livestock shows.

Hannah Devall is the 4-H animal science and agriculture awareness and literacy specialist.

This article appeared in the fall 2022 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.

A father, mother and three children stand with a cow at a livestock show.

The LeLeu family with Stella, a commercial dairy heifer born on their farm, at Hallie’s first official livestock show as a bona fide 4-H member. Photo courtesy of LeLeu family.

A woman stacks a bale of hay on a farm.

The LeLeu family does what it takes to get the job done. Tracie LeLeu stacks hay while husband Mike is at work and the kids are at school. Photo courtesy of LeLeu family.

A girl and a boy stand in front of a brick wall.

Siblings Lanie and Cullen LeLeu are both active members of St. Martin Parish 4-H where they recently interviewed to serve as parish livestock ambassadors. Photo courtesy of LeLeu family.

A girl sits on a tractor with her father standing beside it.

Everyone pitches in when there is work to be done. Hallie LeLeu, 9, learns to drive the tractor with her dad, Mike. Photo courtesy of LeLeu family.

12/15/2022 9:08:17 PM
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