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July 17, 2014

Growing up in 4-H: 'It's been a little bit of everything to me'

ALLEGANY COUNTY — As a kid, Melissa Miller enjoyed 4-H activities and work on her family's farm that included caring for livestock.

As an adult, she appreciates the layered value of such a lifestyle.

This week, Miller was at the Allegany County Fair and Agricultural Expo where her daughter Madalyn, 10, exhibited a 10-month-old Charolais heifer named Showme.

While the size contrast between Madalyn and Showme is remarkable -- the girl weighs under 80 pounds and the cow measures nearly a half-ton -- there was no mistaking the duo's leader as Madalyn commanded the animal's obedience.

Miller said such poise is one of many skills she and her daughter gained from 4-H.

"It builds confidence and self-respect," she said. "You've got to respect the animal, too."

Programs such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America teach students a variety of skills, said Bill McKenzie, president of the Allegany County Agricultural Expo.

"They're two of the best organizations for youth," he said.

The expo features roughly 200 animals -- including chickens, rabbits and goats -- and 80 students in FFA and 4-H groups from the tri-state area, he said.

While the local agricultural community is relatively small, the livestock competition at the fair is popular, he said.

"For what agriculture we have here, we're very well represented," he said. "(Students are) competing for showmanship and market classes ... It's a great learning experience."

McKenzie said he's pleased the community and public officials advocate for the yearly agricultural expo.

"I'm just so proud of what we have here," he said and pointed at the buildings across the fairgrounds. "This wouldn't be possible without the support of Allegany County."

The students work hard all year to prepare for the week-long expo, he said and added many participants exhibit offspring of livestock they bred.

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