Trailin': Bucket-Bottle Calf— A Fun Project

By Tina Turney
Posted 6/17/99

The bucket-bottle calf 4-H project is one that has been growing in popularity for the past several years. Dan and Laurie Ruth, children of Tim and Mary Ruth of rural Riverside, have bucket-bottle …

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Trailin': Bucket-Bottle Calf— A Fun Project


The bucket-bottle calf 4-H project is one that has been growing in popularity for the past several years. Dan and Laurie Ruth, children of Tim and Mary Ruth of rural Riverside, have bucket-bottle calves as projects for the first time this year.

Dan Ruth is a third-year member of the Ramblin’ Recks and Rosies 4-H Club, and will be going into the seventh grade next fall at Highland. His older sister, Laurie, just got involved in 4-H this year and will be a sophomore at Highland.

The bucket-bottle calves, which are purchased within two weeks of birth, must be born between January 1 and May 15 of this year. They are not permitted to nurse the mother cow after two weeks of age. They are then hand fed by the 4-Her with a bucket or bottle until they begin eating grain, usually by six weeks of age.

Dan got his black Angus-Charlois cross heifer from the Kalona Sales Barn. His grandpa, Jack Ruth, helped him pick out the calf and make the purchase. Laurie’s red steer calf is a Shorthorn-Longhorn cross from the Rex Feltz farm in Crawfordsville.

The two calves are eating a grain ration now that is made up of corn, oats, soybean meal, molasses and protein. They’re very tame and miss being fed with the bottle, so you have to watch out for your fingers!

The Ruths have just started working on halter breaking their projects in preparation for showing them at the Johnson County 4-H and FFA Fair July 26-29. They must be able to be led around the show ring and presented for judging. According to Mary, “The bottle calves are a lot of work, but definitely more fun than the market beef projects.” At first, the two calves were allowed to roam around the Ruth’s yard like pets, but lately they’ve become “a little rambunctious and need to learn some manners.”

Riverside farmer Dan Snyder, a family friend, has been helping out by giving the calves their shots and other medications. The calves really look healthy and the Ruth kids do a good job keeping their shed and pens cleaned out, despite the recent heavy rains and muddy conditions. This year, Dan has been able to use his dad’s uniloader, which makes the job much easier.

Next year, these two calves will be eligible to be shown again at the fair in the market steer and heifer crossbred classes if Dan and Laurie decide to.

4-Hers who do this bucket-bottle calf project also are required to have an interview on Monday at the fair in the extension office. This is a good learning experience and an important part of the competition.

Mom Mary said that another benefit of having both kids doing the bucket-bottle calf project is that they have to learn to cooperate and work together. Some days, this goes a little better than others, she says with a smile.

The club the Ruths belong to is comprised of about thirty-five members from the Hills, Lone Tree, Riverside and Iowa City areas. The leaders this year are the Ruths’ aunt Susan Schott, Deanne Eden and Cynthia Hotka.

Earlier this spring, Dan and his cousin, Tom Schott, were selected to go to county with their “Hunter Safety” presentation. In previous years, Dan has made a clock as a wood-working project, helped with the club’s highway clean-up and served at the Special Olympics dinner which Laurie participated in. Dan is also looking forward to going to the 4-H camp at Madrid, Iowa in August. He’s admittedly a little apprehensive since no one else he knows is going, but I’m sure he’ll make friends and have a great time.

Dan has three market beef steers that he also plans to show at this year’s fair. These steers were bought as calves last November prior to the weigh-in date in December. He has a Shorthorn bought from Randy Cole of rural Riverside, an Angus that came from Nate Baker near Mt. Pleasant, and a Simmental from Tim Colbert’s herd south of Riverside.

The steers weigh between 975 and 1200 pounds now; they were just recently weighed by Rex Feltz. According to Dan’s dad Tim, the steers should ideally weigh about 1250 to 1300 pounds by fair time.

At the 1998 Johnson County Fair, Dan showed the champion Angus steer, which they had bought at market price as a calf. Tim emphasized that they don’t try to go out and buy an expensive animal, saying, “It defeats the purpose of 4-H to do that.”

When the steers are sold at auction on the last day of the fair, the money earned will go into Dan’s savings account, although he “usually keeps about fifty dollars out to spend.” Some of the money will be used to buy his calves for the year 2000 fair.

Tim helps his kids out with the feed costs. They are required to fill out record books which keep track of the costs of feed, vet bills, medications and show products.

Dan recently went to a grooming seminar hosted by Hubbard Feeds (formerly Gringer’s) where a professional cattle groomer from Indiana talked to the kids about preparing their animals for the fair. It was attended by 4-Hers from Washington, Cedar and Johnson counties. Earlier, there were also sessions held for kids that will be showing hogs and sheep.

Laurie has also been keeping very busy this spring and summer. In addition to her school and 4-H activities, she helps out at her mom’s job (a doctor’s office in Iowa City) by stuffing envelopes and shredding paper. She loves to garden and helps tend the flowers at their home south of Hills.

Her grandma, Darlene Schott, has been helping her with her sewing projects, which include making a baby blanket and a pillow case. The two have also done some peanut butter cookie baking together. It always takes several tries to get the desired results, but luckily there’s always someone willing to eat the failures!

Mary and Tim both believe strongly in the benefits for kids through 4-H. “The main goal,” says Mary, “is for them to have fun and learn something.” Tim emphasized how much all the 4-H families appreciate the support of area businesses who buy the calves and other livestock after the fair each year. It’s a very positive way for the businesses to show their support for the 4-H program and the kids and their families.

Good luck to Dan and Laurie on a successful showing at the 1999 Johnson County Fair.