Umatilla County youth uses 4-H skills to win heifer in national contest

HERMISTON, Ore. – Mickenzie Marks became a 4-H Cloverbud when she was in kindergarten.

In the nearly 10 years that have followed – more than half her lifetime – Mickenzie has been involved in several project areas offered by Oregon State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program.

“I like showing cattle and I like sewing and cooking,” Mickenzie said.

If she had to rank to them, livestock would be at the top.

Mickenzie, who is finishing her freshman year at Hermiston High School, put the skills she’s learned in 4-H to become the only young person in Oregon to receive a cow through the NILE Merit Heifer Program this year.

“I thought it sounded like a really fun opportunity, because it is with NILE, which is a big organization,” Mickenzie said. “I thought it would be fun to have the opportunity to raise a pure-bred cow and then show it at a big show, which I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do.”

NILE, which stands for Northern International Livestock Exposition, is a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of the livestock industry and agricultural education. Each year it hosts several scholarship programs, one of which awards a heifer to a qualified applicant to show and use to kickstart their own livestock operation.

Mickenzie picked up her heifer in November and has been raising it on her family farm. She will show her at the NILE Fair and Rodeo in October. Mickenzie’s heifer is from Kessler Angus in Milton-Freewater, and Mickenzie also plans to show her at the Milton-Freewater Jr. Show.

“She won this award on her own, with the skills that she got from the 4-H camps she was able to attend,” said Shauna Newman, 4-H education program assistant in Umatilla County. “She did the research, learned how to apply, how to find her own references, and all the work to be done.”

“You had to write an essay and get three character references, and you had to film and produce a YouTube video,” Mickenzie said. “4-H gave me a lot of leadership opportunities that I could include and helped me figure out how to write an essay and get references.”

In her application video, Mickenzie gave a tour of her family farm, pointing out places where her heifer would live and the animal companions she would have, such as Tater-Tot (a new calf) and Truffle (a pig). Mickenzie plans on utilizing artificial insemination to produce quality calves from her heifer, Lassie. She plans to breed Lassie, show her and learn more about animal husbandry and showmanship in the process.

‘Every aspect of 4-H’

Outside of livestock, Mickenzie participates in several 4-H projects.

“She is such a rounded person, she touches every aspect of 4-H,” Newman said.

Indeed, Mickenzie’s long tenure in 4-H has led to a role as a teacher and mentor to younger members.

“I taught some expressive arts at our county’s Camp Cloverbud,” she said. “A couple years ago I taught a painting class where they painted with ‘unusual’ objects – not paint brushes – and this year I taught them how to make wallets out of duct tape at Find Your Spark, which is another camp.”

Mickenzie has attended several leadership conferences through 4-H including a summer leadership conference hosted by Oregon State University, where she had a chance to tour campus, attend workshops like line dancing and art and visit the teaching hospital in OSU’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.

Mickenzie also participated in the 4-H High Desert Leadership camp in Redmond.

“You’re put into cabins with other kids in Oregon, not necessarily other kids in your county,” Mickenzie said. “You and your group have to learn how to shop on a budget and prepare meals for a few days.”

Due to her involvement in 4-H she has had the opportunity to attend the Extension Spring Classic twice. The Spring Classic Competition is made up of a written test, “Jeopardy!” style knowledge competition called Quiz-Bowl and a livestock scenario.

That’s not all. Mickenzie qualified to represent Oregon in the national family consumer sciences “skill-a-thon” competition in San Antonio after competing at the Oregon State Fair in 2023. Mickenzie received a $1,000 scholarship from the 4-H Sterling & Cheryl Allen Umatilla County Endowment Fund for her San Antonio trip. The fund supports the Extension 4-H program in Umatilla County with a focus on supporting leadership program scholarships and volunteer leadership development.

“The skill-a-thon is a trivia competition about sewing, cooking and interior design portions of 4-H activities,” she said. “It was really fun and I’m glad I had the experience to go.”

She said trying new things has allowed her to get out of her comfort zone.

“4-H has helped me grow as a person and grow in skills such as public speaking, confidence and working as part of a team,” she said.

Mickenzie hopes to study animal sciences or agricultural business management in college.

“I want to own my own farm or ranch and raise beef cattle and then sell them to 4-H and FFA members,” she said.

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