More than pets

Hayley Russell, 10, and her chicken competed in the 70th annual Howard County Fair. Photo provided
Hayley Russell, 10, and her chicken competed in the 70th annual Howard County Fair.
Photo provided

Ian Quill, 12, and Hayley Russell, 10, from Columbia Jewish Congregation showed their rabbit and chicken, respectively, at the 70th annual Howard County Fair, which ran from Aug. 8 to 15.

Both of them began raising their animals as a part of 4-H, a national youth program focused on providing children with life skills through various clubs and projects. The “H” represents the organization’s motto: head, heart, hands and health. The program is run in Maryland through the University of Maryland Extension.

Although 4-H offers several programs, Hayley and Ian both chose to participate in the livestock track where children can learn techniques for handling animals and the cost of raising them and demonstrate their knowledge at competitions.

Ian took an interest in rabbits three years ago when his father, Joe Quill, found a breeder in western Howard County. It turned out that Quill had gone to high school with her so he drove, with all three of his children, to see her.

“[My parents] said ‘come on lets go,’” recalled Ian. But they didn’t tell him where they were going. “They said, ‘you’ll see,’ and as a kid in middle school — we all know that’s never a good sign.”
Ian’s prediction turned out to be false. When they arrived at the breeder’s house, they were met by a variety of animals.

After spending time with the bunnies, Ian and both of his siblings each chose one rabbit to take home.
While his first rabbit was a chocolate Dutch, appropriately named Cocoa, the rabbit Ian showed at the Howard County fair is a Holland lop.

Gary, who Ian affectionately calls “Gyarados” named after a character from the television show “Pokémon,” competed at the fair.

Quill explained that children are judged on the quality of their animal, their skills as a handler, their showmanship and their knowledge about the breed.

For rabbits, the competition is divided into separate categories based on breed, age and gender.  Ian and Gary won their class, which was Holland lop males younger than 6 months.

Although they did not win “best of breed,” Ian said Gary, who initially wouldn’t respond to affection, has come a long way in terms of socialization.

“Now, when you put him out in public, he’ll put his front paws up on you to get you to pet him,” said Ian.

Some of the families who participate in 4-H’s livestock program sell the animal at auction; however Ian intends to continue raising Gary and breed him.

Karen Russell and her daughter, Hayley, joined 4-H several months ago, after finding out about the program through friends.

“[Six months ago] if you had asked me if I had a daughter showing a chicken in the fair,” said Russell. “I’d say ‘you’re crazy.’”

The friends of the family were already raising chickens and allowed Hayley to help care for them.

Eventually, Hayley took to one chicken in particular, a Silkie named Molly.

“These chickens are raised by humans, so when we take them out,” said Russell, “they like to stay near us, and if [Hayley] walked away, Molly would follow her.”

Since joining 4-H, Hayley has participated in several other projects in addition to the county fair competition, including volunteering at a local petting zoo and giving a presentation, with a friend, about chickens.

After placing 3rd at the fair, Hayley is looking forward to next year, when she intends to show a rabbit with her brother, Sam.

Although she has been in several different competitions with Molly, Hayley’s favorite part of raising a chicken has been in the simple things.

Said Hayley, “My favorite part about taking care of Molly is holding her. It is much easier than I thought it would be.”

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