By LAURIE SISK
Brad Nading/Telegram Elizabeth Murrell moves her pig along the rail as judge John Nagle, Wamego, left, takes a closer look at it during the 2011 Finney County Fair's swine show.
Laurie Sisk/Telegram Audrey Norquest, 8 and Jacob Norquest, 15, bottle-feed the newest addition to their flock at their farm north of Garden City.
Jacob Norquest, 15, holds a 5-week old lamb as he assists his 8-year-old sister, Audrey, in bottle-feeding the newest addition to the Norquest's flock of 15 sheep.
It's not an unfamiliar scene at the Norquest family farm north of Garden City — rather more of a nightly occurrence, and one in which families spend valuable time together as children grow within their 4-H families. The Norquests belong to the Kourageous Kids 4-H Club.
Audrey officially began 4-H this year, but was a Cloverbud for two years in a program that is catered to 5- to 7-year-olds. Audrey's mother, Lora Norquest, said the Cloverbuds engage in age-appropriate activities, mostly hands-on games, crafts and learning experiences.
Jacob is entering his 11th year in 4-H and began as what his mother calls a "tag-a-long" at the age of 4. Jacob has been extremely involved in 4-H since he joined. He has been involved in beef and swine projects and says his favorite activities have revolved around animal science.
But Jacob adds that he has learned a lot more in 4-H than just how to show animals.
"I've definitely learned leadership," Jacob said. "And I'm definitely not as shy as I would have been."
Jacob already is beginning to use the leadership skills he has learned in 4-H while serving on the student council at Garden City High School.
"I know that both 4-H and STUCO have really led him to become involved as a volunteer in the community," Lora Norquest said, "He's done Meals on Wheels, the Honor Flight for the veterans through his 4-H group and has taught 'Protecting Me-Protecting You,' an anti-drug campaign for first- through fourth-graders."
Jacob said the program's purpose is to help keep young children on the right path. He has presented at Junior Leadership, which includes all the 4-H clubs in Finney County. Junior Leadership also runs the Cloverbuds, which Lora Norquest said provides a learning opportunity for both the leaders and the youngsters.
And as if that weren't enough, Jacob also has completed leadership training through the 4-H State Leadership Conference.
Now away at college, Charla Norquest, 19, and the oldest of the Norquest children, started 4-H when she was 7. The children's cousin, Meagan McCracken, 18, who lives with the Northquests, also has caught the 4-H bug.
And although her husband, Jason, isn't a 4-H member, Lora said he definitely plays his role in this 4-H family.
"He's a wonderful 4-H father," she said. "He hauls the animals around to shows and helps work the animals every night."
Lora and Jason are not professional farmers, but do work in the field of agriculture. Jason works at the groundwater management facility, and Lora is a research scientist for Pioneer Hybrid.
"A few years ago, we decided to start raising our own sheep to get the full year-round experience, instead of just buying a lamb from an auction in April then selling them at the county fair in August," Lora said. "We wanted to know more, and I was very excited about that because I've always wanted babies on the farm. So now we have 14 ewes and a ram."
For Audrey, the real joy in raising sheep comes in watching how playful the lambs are when they are young.
"It's fun watching them jump around," she said.
Her mother said that showing the sheep has instilled confidence in the youngest member of the Norquest family.
"Audrey has learned to give talks at county 4-H days, and Jacob has won the county demonstration contest a few times," Lora said.
Jacob said he and his older sister have gone back and forth winning the demonstration contest, and that it has definitely become competitive between the two older children.
"Just last year was Charla's last year in 4-H, and we have always been competitive rivals," Jacob said. "Sheep has always been my sport, and she kept saying how she was going to beat me. At the very end of the show, I took first and she took second. Just to have that relief of beating her my final year was all I needed."
Lora said last year was especially memorable because all three children — Charla, Jacob and Audrey — advanced to the round-robin for the top sheep showmen in the county.
"That was a really neat family day because they all got matching shirts and all got to participate. It was a very memorable day," Lora said.
She added that 4-H has kept the Norquest family bonds tight.
"We spend every night together, especially from January through September, with the sheep and with the family," Lora said. "We work the sheep every night. It's what we do as a family. We don't do a lot of family vacations because we take care of the animals year round. The state fair is our family trip and for the county fair, we sleep down there in the camper. 4-H has definitely been very much a part of our family."
Besides being a great way to meet new people, Lora said, today's 4-H is much broader in scope than when she began.
"4-H has changed dramatically from the typical food, cooking and animals," Lora, who also joined as a young girl, said. "We have a lot of technology 4-H projects, including GPS systems that have really caught the attention of many of the junior high- and high school-age kids."
She added that today's 4-H children learn a lot more about healthy eating and exercise.
"They are learning not only how to eat healthy and exercise, but how to teach others about it," Lora said. "There is so much more to 4-H than there was 50 years ago, people just need to go to the extension office and talk with the extension agent or anybody that is in 4-H."
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