The Sopris Sun

4-H Club sets sights on Rifle

John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The annual run-up to August’s Garfield County Fair in Rifle is now under full steam in the Carbondale area’s 4-H Club circles, as young enthusiasts pick the categories they will be competing in (exclusively livestock projects at this point), seek out the animals they will be working with, and start the search for possible buyers of the animals they raise and care for.

Lisa Nieslanik, leader of the Black Sheep 4-H Club (the other Carbondale-based group is the Mt. Sopris Club), held an organizational meeting on April 3 at her home on White Hill overlooking the town.

To open the meeting, she laid out the rules, schedules and planned “community service projects” that will consume the time and effort of 19 club members, who range in age from 10 to 16 or so years.

Nieslanik took over leadership of the club two years ago from her brother-in-law, Mark Nieslanik, who had been the Black Sheep club’s leader for more than three decades.

Mark Nieslanik told The Sopris Sun this week that the club’s rather quirky name was picked by the young members, in honor of a popular television show from the 1970s, “Black Sheep Squadron,” about a “misfit” squadron of fabled fighter pilots in World War II’s Pacific Ocean theater, under famed squadron leader Maj. Greg “Pappy” Boyington.

Mark said the Black Sheep generally had between 18 and 27 members every year, so this year’s club size is in line with tradition, but Lisa noted that last year’s club shrank to about eight members after a number of youths graduated from school or left for other reasons.

This year’s turnout, she indicated after the April 3 meeting, has been heartening and a gratifying confirmation that 4-H activities remain relevant in these modern times.

According to the CSU Extension website, “4-H is a community of young people, across America, learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.”

In addition to the traditional livestock projects, according to the website, Colorado 4-H also offers an international exchange, military-oriented clubs and a K-12 afterschool program.

Community service

At the meeting on April 3, attended by eager members and some of their parents, Lisa Nieslanik explained that the members will be expected to take part in four community service projects as part of their work to fulfill requirements laid out by the Colorado State University Extension Service based in Fort Collins.

The community service projects, Nieslanik said, will include serving popcorn at the Thursday night Carbondale Wild West Rodeo; helping out with food service to the homeless with the Feed My Sheep organization in Glenwood; taking part in the therapy programs at WindWalkers; and walking dogs at C.A.R.E.

Among the industrious members of the club is Nieslanik’s daughter, Megan, a high-school sophomore, who is entering the “producing pair” category with a cow-calf duo. The cow, Megan explained, won a Grand Champion ribbon at the 2015 Garfield County Fair (when it already had been bred for this year’s fair), and then gave birth to the calf on Feb. 10, on its own (meaning without human assistance) while Megan was at school. Megan also is entering a heifer and a steer in the fair’s beef competition, which has long been known as the main type of project in the 4-H world, although in the Black Sheep Club that has changed as more and more kids live in urban settings rather than ranches or farms and consequently pick less intensive, easier-managed projects.

At the meeting, when Lisa Nieslanik asked for project preferences, the members picked everything from beef to rabbits, chickens, swine, goats and sheep. A comprehensive list of project types is available on the CSU Extension’s 4-H web site (www.colorado4h.org).

Rueful humor

There were some moments of rueful humor at the meeting as members declared their preferences for this year’s competition.

One came when it was confirmed that the swine projects of a couple of Nieslanik kids were cut short last year when a bear got into the pigpen at the family homestead on Missouri Heights and ate two pigs (no people were injured, and the bear was later caught and killed). The two Nieslaniks were forced to take other routes to complete their projects, said Lisa Nieslanik, which they did by showing someone else’s swine in one case, and switching to a “poster demonstration” of the project in the other case.

Another round of chuckling broke out when a young girl, after listening to a short talk by Nieslanik about the care of chickens, asked tremulously, “Do you wash chickens?”

Nieslanik replied in the affirmative, but only “if they get really dirty,” particularly once they are housed at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle in early August.

The members also were advised about their 4-H “books,” designed to chronicle the treatment and care of their animals, which Nieslanik said should be started very soon and be updated regularly so they could be turned in either at the fair or soon after it ends.

As the two-hour meeting rolled along, some of the 4-H members noted possible conflicts with the community-service schedule, including a birthday and soccer schedules in the local schools.

Talk also turned to what types of chickens would best meet the criteria of the 4-H competition, and how many chicks the club members should obtain (either one chick or a “pen of birds,” which Nieslanik characterized as three chickens, one of which would be entered).

The group also agreed that veteran 4-H participant Josie Moreford, a sophomore, will at some point give a demonstration talk to the newer club members about a host of details that must be attended to as part of the project.

Published in The Sopris Sun on April 7, 2016.