Unleashing a new type of 4-H dairy project: dairy animal leasing

Do you know a youth who wants to participate in the dairy project but doesn’t own a dairy animal? Maybe leasing a heifer or cow could be an option for a whole new project!

Leasing a dairy animal makes the 4-H dairy project accessible to an entirely new group of youth! Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension
Leasing a dairy animal makes the 4-H dairy project accessible to an entirely new group of youth! Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension

The 4-H dairy project is a great way for youth to learn a variety of skills, including hands-on animal care and management, character education, how to communicate in various ways with a wide audience, and countless other abilities that will serve them throughout their lives. However, housing a dairy animal, especially a cow that is being milked, requires space and equipment that not everyone has access to. Does that mean a youth can’t be involved in the dairy project? No! One great way for youth to take part in this project is to lease a dairy animal. This still might not be an option for everyone, but it is another innovative idea to consider when deciding what animal science projects to enroll in for the 4-H year.  

Leasing allows a youth to “borrow” or “rent” a dairy animal from a farm to use as a 4-H dairy project. Even though the youth doesn’t own the animal, he or she learns how to care for it, teaches it to lead and shows it at the county fairy. Some fairs may only allow heifers to be leased, while others may allow either heifers or cows to be “rented.” Be sure to check with the dairy superintendent or fair board for each specific show or fair to make sure leased animals are allowed and what (if any) documentation is needed prior to registering for the show. Not every county or show allows leased animals, some may place restrictions on the number of animals or only allows heifers (not cows) to be leased, so please keep this in mind.

When deciding if leasing a dairy animal might work, here is a small list of things to consider:

  • Where will the animal be housed?
  • What responsibilities will the youth have in caring for, training and working with the animal?
  • Who will be responsible for the costs associated with caring for the animal?
  • Will there be a fee to lease the animal?

It may be helpful to have a written lease agreement between the 4-H member, parents and dairy animal owner that lists and explains the duties, details and responsibilities that come with leasing a heifer or cow. This will also help to clarify the expectations so there are no surprises for any of the parties involved. This lease document is an example and may be used as a template, modifying as needed for the specific leasing situation.

Michigan State University Extension hopes this reference will be adapted and utilized to meet the needs of the county, 4-H youth, parents and dairy animal owner and is no way intended to regulate or endorse leasing dairy animals.

Leasing a dairy heifer or cow makes the dairy project accessible to an entirely new group of youth who want to learn about this great animal but haven’t been able to before. Consider if leasing or borrowing a dairy animal is right for your 4-H project!

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