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Full circle for 4-Hers: Two families bond through showing animals

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Rachael, left and Tim Neft, right along with Renae Swanson, and the Neft childern, Abby, Rylee and Tayler watch as it's feeding time for their young beef cattle in Kelliher.

SHOOKS - Renae Swanson joined 4-H in 2008 as a teenager who wanted to explore leadership opportunities. The next year she became interested in poultry, and now she also shows beef cattle at the Beltrami County Fair.

The hitch - she lives in the town of Kelliher, which prohibits keeping livestock. The solution - Renae connected with Tim and Rachael Neft, who raise 4-H club calves on their farm, the TNR Cattle Co., in Shooks. The Nefts mentored Renae, who now is active in her final year of 4-H showing. She is an after-school 4-H youth leader for clubs in Blackduck and Kelliher, has served as an officer in her own club, the Battle River Beavers, and has qualified to take projects to the Minnesota State Fair.

Renae has also turned the Nefts' mentoring around and helps Tim and Rachael's three daughters with their 4-H projects. Tayler is a sixth-grader at Kelliher, Rylee is in third-grade and Abby will start first-grade in September. Tayler is a member of the Nebish North Stars, and her sisters are Cloverbuds.

"This is such a beautiful relationship here," said Ann Marie Ward, Beltrami County 4-H program coordinator. "You see these four girls and how they're so close and how they work together. It's a beautiful thing."

Tayler said her projects for the county fair will include showing her heifer calf, Lacey, and pigs, Big Bother and Little Sister. "I was going to call him Big Brother, but we brought him home, and it's Big Bother," Tayler said as she mixed feed for her animals.

She said she will also present a veterinary science poster describing various veterinary drugs and how they affect cattle.

As Cloverbuds, the 4-H organization for 5 to 8-year-olds, Rylee and Abby are allowed to show three projects. Rylee said she will present a project and show her pig, Bacon, and a cow. "I haven't named my cow yet," she said. Abby plans to show her pig, Black Eye, and a cow. "It's one of my grandma's," Abby said. The girls' grandparents are Joe and Sissy Neft. Renae works for the family milking their cows.

Tim and Rachael met in 4-H - Shooks Early Risers for him and Deer Lake Flyers for her. "Down at the State Fair," said Tim. "I'd known her for years, but we just hit it off that trip. I was dairy cattle and she was beef cattle. I was 18."

"I was 16," said Rachael. "That was the year I showed Rachel. Dad bought me a cow when I was 16, and her registered name was Rachel. We got married three years later."

This year, Tim and Rachael will serve as dairy barn superintendents for the Beltrami County Fair. Tim is a Kelliher Fire Department volunteer firefighter and Rachael teaches at Kelliher School.

Renae asked Tayler to list some of the lessons she has taken away from 4-H. Tayler said being a good sport is important, as is remembering not to stand next to a calf because it can kick sideways. "If you show an animal one year, don't expect the same thing the next year because every animal is different," Tayler said. "My favorite part of the fair is when I do good in the show ring."

Renae will begin her studies at Northwest Technical College for an administrative assistant career. Her parents, Wally and Angie Swanson, said the Nefts and Renae's Battle River Beavers 4-H leader, Jane Hanks, are among the people who made their daughter's participation in 4-H possible.

"I hope other families who live in town consider the benefits of 4-H for their children and talk to their rural neighbors so their children can have fun," Angie said.

And, Renae said, returning to 4-H as a leader is definitely part of her future.

"Oh, yeah," she said.

If you go:

• What: The 2013 Beltrami County Fair.

• When: July 31-Aug. 4. Animals arrive Aug. 1.

• Where: Beltrami County Fairgrounds.

• 4-H fact: A total of 245 4-H members have registered 2,612 projects.

• On the web: For more information, visit