Tonganoxie family raises livestock for Leavenworth County fair

Veda Alvarez, 9, shows her bucket calf at the Leavenworth County Fair. Her family finds involvement in 4-H to be deeply grounded in Christian principles. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Olivia Martin
olivia.martin@theleaven.org

TONGANOXIE — There’s nothing like the simple joy of sleeping late during the summer. And few people enjoy that luxury as much as Cadence Dare.

Because she usually gets up early — really early.

“During the school year, I wake up at 4:30,” said Cadence, 16. “I go out, feed the dogs first, then I go out to the first pasture.”

And that’s when the day’s chores begin.

Cadence, her siblings — Veda Alvarez, 9; Westyn, 11; and Corbin Reischman, 6 — and their parents, Shannon and Josh Reischman, live on a 10-acre farm just outside Tonganoxie. A blended family and parishioners of Sacred Heart there, the Reischmans have worked all year raising beef cattle, bucket calves, chickens and rabbits in preparation for the Leavenworth County fair July 28 to Aug. 3.

And the work is not for the faint of heart. 

Head, heart, hands and health

Hard work finds a home in 4-H.

A national youth leadership development program, 4-H provides an opportunity for youth to learn and complete hands-on projects in areas like science, arts and crafts, health, leadership, agriculture, community engagement — and livestock.

After nine years of 4-H involvement, the Reischmans can clearly see its influence on their livestock production — and their faith.

According to Shannon, the four H’s in 4-H — head, heart, hands and health — are deeply grounded in Christian principles.

“4-H is very faith-based,” she said. “It’s about community and hard work and being healthy and choosing the right choices.”

And one thing 4-H teaches well is responsibility.

“As 4-Hers, we are stewards of the land . . . of our community,” said Shannon. “And as Catholics, we are asked to do the same thing. They work together.”

That responsibility is something Veda is proud of.

“In the morning, I always check on my bunny,” she said. “I feed and water him, check his case and make sure it’s not wet.”

Smiling, she added, “I’m not sure why, but I call him my baby.”

This connection with the animals doesn’t stop at Veda. In fact, it’s the key to farming well.

“You have to get to know each animal,” said Cadence. “You can’t really follow a manual or anything. [Care] varies with each animal.”

Shannon agreed.

“There’s something spiritual about working with the animals, getting your hands in the dirt and being grateful for everything that we’re given,” she said. “They are on this earth for us, so we have to take care of them. I think people forget that.”

Shannon stressed the importance of caring for the environment in the process of raising livestock, which is something she feels strongly.

“If we take a little, we always have to put something back,” she said. “On a small scale, you can do that responsibly for the environment and still feed your family and make a profit.”

Farming for the future

One of the major trials of farming, of which the Reischmans are keenly aware, is that all of their hard work is a gamble — and it may not pay off as planned.

“[Raising cattle] has taught me that sometimes you don’t have the fix for everything, just like in life,” said Shannon. “Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. You just have to keep faith.”

But Shannon and her family don’t let the uncertainty of farming get in the way of their strong work ethic.

“The rule of the house is that the animals eat before we eat,” said Shannon. “[Caring for livestock] teaches the kids compassion and also . . . where our food comes from.”

From watering horses and cows to stringing fence and feeding chickens, each member of the Reischman household has daily chores. The kids can even be found helping out on neighbors’ farms.

“People know they are capable of taking care of everything,” said Shannon. “It takes a lot of communication.”

And the Reischman kids also have to monitor their livestock’s nutrition carefully.

When livestock is brought to the fair, 4-H requires that each animal weigh within a certain range in order to be “auctioned” for a premium sale at the end of the fair. 

Individuals and local companies pay the premiums to the exhibitor — or young livestock owner — as a recognition of the work the youth put into their livestock. 

It also ensures the youth has money to raise the following year’s livestock. The exhibitor receives this premium at the end of the sale and maintains ownership of his or her animal.

But raising an animal within the desired weight range is a hard balance to strike — but not too hard for the Reischmans this year.

“It’s cool to see how [hard work] pays off based on how much grain you give them,” said Cadence, gesturing to her steer. “We had to really heavily feed him and make sure he got enough water to make weight!”

As a high school junior, Cadence has already started thinking about her future studies — hopefully, in bovine genetics.

But Cadence believes her work with livestock has made her a better person as well.

“They teach you to not be quick to be frustrated,” she said.

And that, as the 4-H motto goes, really is a step toward making the best better.

One Response

  1. Amylynn McDevitt at |

    My Dad sent me this article in the mail. My son is 10 years old and has been in 4-H for two years. This year he is working on a market hog, he purchased two piglets in the spring to raise and sell for auction and for our freezer. This has taught our family so much! We have never raised a large animal before. My son has learned the value of a hard days work, learning to take care of his livestock and watch them daily for changes. There is a deep spiritual connection with our animals and being grateful for the good days and praying when times are tough and asking for strength. Thanks for such a great article! We need more of these written about these 4-H and farm kids, they truly work hard, and love what they do. Not everyone knows how hard these kids work all year for the fair. Amy M. Wells, ME

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