Tag Archives: 4-H

Meet Maple Dell Farm.

IMG_4925 (1024x683)

Introduction: We normally feature Virginia farms, but rules can be broken! I recently visited my hometown and met with the Patrick family at their nearby farm. I also have a bit of a personal connection to their story—Caitlin and Derek Patrick were in the same 4-H program that I was, and I saw the family at the Howard County Fair each year where we all exhibited our livestock.–Laura Siegle

The 160-cow dairy, a fixture in the Howard County farm landscape, is one of the last of its kind in Howard County, Maryland. Nonetheless, a typical day on the farm for the Patrick family at Maple Dell is much like life on any of the many family-run dairies scattered across the state. The cows walk to the milking parlor twice each day, and each cow’s udder is cleaned and milked over the course of several minutes.

IMG_4891 (1024x683)

Unlike cows, who eat a mixed ration, calves on dairies like Maple Dell drink milk or milk replacer and are slowly transitioned to a diet of “calf starter” and hay as they grow so that they can develop healthy rumens.

In between trips to the parlor and judicious equipment cleanup after each milking, there is no shortage of chores. Each day, the family must blend a ration consisting of farm-grown silage, hay, grain, and minerals and deliver it to the barns. This dairy ration, calculated with precision according to the needs of the cows and the nutrient makeup of each ingredient, consists largely of forages like hay and silage to keep each cow’s digestive tract and rumen microbes healthy.

IMG_4928 (683x1024)

Manure is cleaned out of the barn regularly to create a clean, comfortable environment for the milking herd. In fact, in one barn, the cows have free access to enter and leave a set of “free stalls” bedded deeply with sand. In another barn, the “pack barn,” cows can lie down as they please on a thick layer of shavings. The Patrick family knows that good housing that enhances “cow comfort,” as the industry calls it, leads to happy, healthy, and productive cows.

IMG_4943 (1024x683)

IMG_4888 (1024x682)

Like most dairies, the Patrick family raises their calves in hutches that provide shelter and enable individualized feeding and monitoring of each animal. Heifer calves which have been weaned live together as they grow to breeding and calving age. Aside from caring for the animals, the family also must manage the crops they grow which include corn, soybeans, barley, wheat, triticale, alfalfa, timothy hay, and orchard grass hay.

IMG_4977 (1024x683)

IMG_4868 (1024x683)

Maple Dell certainly looks a typical dairy in its day-to-day functions, but its tradition of exhibiting top-notch cattle and supporting the Howard County 4-H program is rather extraordinary. Although most of the herd consists of Holsteins, one of the most common dairy breeds, one third of the cattle are red-and-white Ayrshires. The family exhibits both breeds. In fact, the Patrick family has been showing cattle for the past seventy years ever since David and James Patrick began taking their Ayrshires to fairs. Most recently, Maple Dell cattle have gone locally to the Howard County Fair, the Maryland Spring Show, and the Maryland State Fair. At the State Fair, the family has brought the Holstein Senior Best Three Females for two years in a row.

IMG_4911 (1024x683)

IMG_4873 (1024x678)

The Patricks have also traveled to the prestigious All-American Dairy Show and the World Dairy Expo. Their cattle have undergone the “classification” process which objectively appraises animals for a variety of traits on a 1-100 point scale. The outstanding EX-95 classification that has been assigned to three Holsteins and one Ayrshire bred by Maple Dell is a testament to the quality of the cattle the family produces.

IMG_4854 (683x1024)

Calf hutches provide shelter during cold winter weather.

It would be remiss to look at the farm’s breeding and showing achievements without acknowledging its contribution to the county’s 4-H program. The 4-H program in Howard County has long been a standout opportunity for youth to gain skills ranging from robotics to livestock judging. Farms in the county have dwindled and dairy farms are far more rare, but thanks to the Patrick family, youth with or without farming backgrounds have the opportunity to lease dairy heifers and exhibit them in the Howard County Fair, an event where the 4-H program shines and youth showcase their skills and projects over the course of a week in front of thousands of attendees from the community.


IMG_4963 (1024x683)

This cow and her herd mates are lying down on a bed of sand. Cows can enter and exit these bedded “free stalls” as they please to go eat, drink, or socialize.

For many years the Patricks have organized a dairy club education and showing program. Youth who join can keep their leased heifer at the farm if they do not have their own facilities. Twenty or thirty heifers from Maple Dell are leased out to children through this program each year. 4-H members who lease a heifer must keep detailed “project records” on their animal, including notes on care and reports on expenditures, and preparing the heifers for the fair is certainly is nothing short of a project. Heifers must first learn to be handled and walk quietly when led. They must also be brushed, bathed, and clipped, among other tasks. The process instills responsibility, confidence, and character in youth who participate in the process from start to finish.

IMG_4859 (1024x683)

The Patrick family is deeply rooted in their passion for excelling in their business, serving the industry, and engaging youth in agricultural production. This tradition was built by the dedication of parents and grandparents who had high expectations for their cattle and appreciated the value of 4-H programs, and today, the Patrick children and grandchildren carry on the tradition. Walk through the Howard County Fair in August, and you just might spot a barn aisle full of Maple Dell calves napping in the straw after a bath and waiting on their turn in the show ring.

IMG_4898 (1024x683)

IMG_4852 (1024x683)

IMG_4980 (1024x683)

IMG_4913 (1024x683)

Additional Resources for Readers:

Article about the 4-H leasing program at Maple Dell here

Article about Ayrshires at Maple Dell here

Dairy cattle resource from Virginia Cooperative Extension here

University of Maryland 4-H Program here


Meet Sprouse’s Corner Ranch.

100_1284 (1024x768)

The 81-acre ranch in Buckingham County, operated by LaRue Sprouse Dowd, has belonged in the Sprouse family for many generations. After gaining years of experience working, training, competing, and teaching in the horse industry and studying Veterinary Technology, Equine Therapy, and Horsemanship, LaRue returned to the ranch in 2006 and worked with her family to restore the property and create a fully-functional horse operation.  

100_1317 (1024x768)

LaRue provides lessons and training for a variety of disciplines.

100_1274 (1024x768)Anyone who visits Sprouse’s Corner today will be greeted by a clean barn, a tidy tack room, and several large pastures. While the ranch offers an array of services to the community including boarding, youth camps, trail rides, three on-farm shows per year, and lessons for a variety of disciplines and skill levels, the operation offers one program with a particularly deep impact on everyone it touches—the Heartland Horse Heroes therapeutic riding program.

100_1282 - Copy (768x1024)

100_1279 (1024x768)

The ranch has an arena dedicated to Heartland Horse Heroes that meets the PATH facility standards for therapeutic riding.

LaRue became interested in initiating a therapeutic riding program after hearing about the success of a dog therapy program in Farmville and learning of a need for horse-based therapy in the area. Starting in 2009, the ranch underwent an intensive inspection from PATH, or the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, so that it could be accredited for use in a therapeutic program. LaRue also passed a rigorous testing program in order to become a PATH Registered Instructor. Thus, the Heartland Horse Heroes therapeutic riding program at Sprouse’s Corner Ranch was born.

100_1246 (1024x768)

Heartland Horse Heroes provides riding lessons and activities for youth with physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges or learning disabling conditions. In fact, the nonprofit program is so successful that Buckingham County Public Schools brings students to the ranch weekly for ninety-minute lessons. The students spend half of their time learning in an on-site classroom and half of their time on horseback.

100_1250 - Copy (796x1024)

100_1312 (1024x768)

Sprouse’s Corner Ranch recently hosted a training event for Virginia Cooperative Extension faculty.

Volunteers are an integral part of Heartland Horse Heroes because most of the youth in the program are still learning to ride independently. This means that each horse and rider pair needs one volunteer to lead the horse and two side walkers to support the rider. Each lesson with ten riders requires thirty volunteers. Many students from Longwood University’s recreational therapy program volunteer with Heartland Horse Heroes, but LaRue is always grateful when members of the community come to the ranch to offer their time, resources, and support.

100_1299 (768x1024)

The volunteers of Heartland Horse Heroes are looking forward to expanding their scope by initiating a program in April for at-risk youth called “Inner City Slickers.” This program, created by former Three Dog Night drummer Michael McMeel, provides an opportunity for at-risk youth to learn about horses, work with mentors, and complete growth challenges. Participants learn the “cowboy way” of kindness, hard work, responsibility, and perseverance. Follow-up with participants will be a critical part of the program as it grows at Heartland Horse Heroes.

100_1261 (1024x768)100_1259 - Copy (1024x768)While Sprouse’s Corner Ranch enjoys celebrating the successes of the youth and adults who learn, train, and show at the facility, the accounts coming out of Heartland Horse Heroes are particularly uplifting to the parents, teachers, and volunteers who work with the program’s riders. LaRue tells the story of one participant who did not speak while at school, but who would arrive at the farm each week and readily ask about her favorite horse, saying “Where’s Peaches? Can I groom Peaches? Can I ride Peaches today?” Another child in the program struggled with handwriting at school. After she developed muscle tone from holding the reins while riding, her handwriting improved and her teacher took note. Therapeutic riding encourages students to build and strengthen some of the same muscles that are used in everyday life, and students who participate in Heartland Horse Heroes are motivated to grow and improve by their enjoyment of riding. They also gain confidence from the experience of working with a large animal.

100_1308 (1024x768)

Running Sprouse’s Corner Ranch and Heartland Horse Heroes is not the only thing keeping LaRue active in the community. She is also the leader of Pegasus 4-H Horse and Pony club. The club is open to any youth who love horses and enjoy learning about them, even if they do not have access to animals of their own. LaRue helps club members participate in local educational clinics, shows, and 4-H knowledge contests such as Horse Bowl that teach participants about animal science and foster communication skills.100_1310 (1024x768)

Sprouse’s Corner is one of the many horse facilities across the state that provides a valuable platform for learning and skill development. Without people like LaRue who enjoy teaching and without facilities in the region suitable for horse programs, youth would have limited opportunities to spend constructive time outdoors learning the responsibility, confidence, and leadership that come from working with horses. Heartland Horse Heroes has opened the door of opportunity in Central Virginia even wider, indelibly touching the lives of the many children who join LaRue Dowd and her volunteers at the ranch each week.

100_1324 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

Sprouse’s Corner Ranch Webpage and Facebook Page

Heartland Horse Heroes Webpage and Facebook Page

Virginia 4-H Horse Program

PATH International Webpage

Inner City Slickers Webpage