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Some girls collect dolls. Others collect stuffed animals.
Emily Piland collects metal.
And what a collection this 14-year-old has: in the form of silver and gold belt buckles (over 20), medals (too many to count), trophies, plaques and even a silver tea service.
But Emily is really a metal “collector by default,” because her focus is actually on raising champion beef cattle. As a member of the Mother Lode 49ers 4-H group, she has won numerous awards in the last six years, including Supreme Grand Champion Steer and 4-H Champion Market Steer at this year’s Livestock Auction.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Emily said with a quiet smile. “Raising and showing cattle is a fun thing to do because you get to travel. I’ve been to the National Junior Angus Show and the National Western Stock Show. I’ve traveled to Denver, Phoenix and many other places.”
The competitions may be fun, but they are really only the final stage in a process that involves months of planning and daily hard work. Emily is not ranked ninth in the California Livestock Association for nothing (and she ranked eighth in the state last year).
Every morning Emily gets up early to clean stalls and feed the small herd of cattle on her parents’ 23-acre spread in Rescue — all before breakfast and getting ready for school. Weekends are spent bathing and grooming the critters, including brushing, washing and blow drying. The process can take two to three hours, but it is important to focus on the details, because this helps the cattle to grow long hair.
“Long hair is a good thing,” Emily said, explaining that it is an important part of showing cattle in competitions where conformation is a key factor.
Long hair can be difficult to maintain in the Sacramento Valley heat, however. The Piland family has an air-conditioned barn where the show stock spend time on the hottest days.
“The air conditioning is a good thing, because it ‘tricks’ them into growing their fur longer,” she said. “Then, when you are trimming them for a competition, you can keep a nice line where there might be a slight dip. And timing is a big deal in getting ready for a show.”
This marks the sixth year that Emily, who just graduated from Marble Valley School this spring, has been raising Black Angus cattle – although this year’s winning steer was a mixed breed.
“I was 8 years old when I got my first cow,” she said. “In 4-H, you begin showing cattle at age 9. There are adults who help you to learn in 4-H. We go to a rancher, Blaine Rodgers, in Stockton, who raises club calves for people who raise and show cattle.”
Animal science projects are a large part of the 4-H organization.
In animal science projects, 4-H members:
In addition to all the traveling she has done, Emily has made many friends. She thinks that every youth who is interested in trying something new should check out the many opportunities offered by 4-H.
“Start as a mini-member,” Emily said. “And figure out what you want to do. (Cattle are the most fun, though.)”
Emily is already planning for next year’s cattle shows, and will have additional time challenges in the fall when she enters St. Francis High School in Sacramento. But she’s taking it all in stride.
“Who knows? There are lots of clubs at St. Francis,” she said with a smile. “I’d like to see if I can help to establish a chapter of Future Farmers of America there.”