4-H And The Haights Of Floral, Sask.
This warm and lively story tells
how the eight Haight kids learned rural
leadership and efficiency from the 4-H club and
helped their father turn
a failing farm into a prosperous prize winner
BY THE END of last summer’s annual livestock exhibitions at Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert, mere mention of the name Haight was enough to spoil any Saskatchewan Holstein cattleman’s day. For weeks the Holstein exhibitors had been haunted by Haights.
At Saskatoon in July, Ralph Haight, a mildmannered 51-year-old farmer from nearby Floral, won six first prizes, three seconds and four thirds with his purebred Holsteins. At North Battleford two weeks later, Haight’s cows came home with fifteen awards, including five firsts. Three days after that, at Prince Albert, his cattle took fifteen first prizes. On each occasion a Haight cow was judged senior grand champion female of the show. At various times, all of Ralph Haight’s six daughters and two sons, ages 17 to 24, led the Holsteins around the judging rings with a skill that put veteran showmen on their mettle.
To the infinite relief of other breeders, Haight finally took his family, $1,200 in prize money, a shoe box full of ribbons and 19 accomplished cows back to Floral View Farm, seven miles southeast of Saskatoon. He didn’t compete in the Regina exhibition because his 24-year-old daughter, Joyce, was being married.
Appropriately, though, Joyce married Robert
Story, Pictures Next Two Pages
Anne and Alan, 17, are youngest of three sets of Haight twins. Future 4-H member is nephew Lyle.
“The Kids Taught Me Everything I Know,” Modest Ralph Haight Says of His Farming Methods
Brack, a University of Saskatchewan extensiondepartment employee whom she met in a 4-H club. Most of the good things in Ralph Haight’s life, including his sweep of the 1953 livestock shows, can be attributed to the 4-H movement in Canada.
Four-H is Canada’s only nationwide rural youth organization. Under the emblem of a four-leaf clover wit h the let ter “H” on each leaf, symbolizing the training of head, heart, hand and health, it teaches leadership, citizenship and a fuller more efficient way of life to 65,000 Canadian farm boys and girls between t he ages of ten and twenty-one. Indirectly it teaches the parents, too, and the best illustration of how this works is the tale of what happened to the Haights: Ralph, his wife
Sara, twins Joyce and Jean, twins Murray and Muriel, Ruth, Gail and twins Alan and Anne.
Ralph Haight is a tall straight-backed farmer with sharply chiseled features, tired friendly eyes and grey-sprinkled hair. Seventeen years ago he abandoned wheat farming—the trade he’d known all his life—and took up dairying simply because he couldn’t make a living from wheat. But he was a mediocre dairyman with a mediocre herd until his children joined a 4-H club and learned scientific dairy farming.
“Right after that we changed to purebred cattle,” he says, “and the kids taught me everything I know.”
Now ex-wheat-farmer Haight is vice-president of the Saskatchewan Dairy and Poultry Pool, director of both the national body and Saskatchewan branch, Holstein-Friesian Association of Canada, director of the Saskatchewan Dairy Association, and a member of the Saskatchewan Livestock Board. He studies pedigrees and livestock reports the way baseball fans pore over the sports pages. Upon receiving his weekly issue of the Western
Producer, a farm paper, he turns first, to the classified ads to see who’s selling what in cattle. He has a herd of eighty Holsteins, worth about $25,000, and last year grossed $12,000 in milk sales.
His children have set a record for Canadian 4-H club work. The six oldest have won the top 4-H honor, a trip to Toronto for national club week. No other family has produced so many winners and the Haights aren’t finished yet.. Alan and Anne, the youngest, still have four years to compete for the trip. Already the Haights have collected 16 silver trophies from club competitions and livestock shows. On week ends farmers from miles around come to admire the Haight herd—and the Haights.
All this astonishes and often embarrasses the family. At one exhibition last year a disgruntled loser—who thought the Haights were getting too much publicity and too many prizes—refused to speak to Ralph for two days.
“I hate incidents like that,” says Ralph earnestly. “We don’t want to arouse bad feelings among our neighbors. Sometimes the children are teased at school when their pictures go in the paper. We don’t like the publicity. After all, we’re just an ordinary family.”
They aren’t, of course, but once the Haights were just an ordinary family and that is their story. It is the simple story of a Saskatchewan farmer who pioneered on the prairie, raised a family and struggled for survival in the demoralizing 1930s. It is the story of how 4-H helped the Haights find security and dignity in farm life.
It was the search for a better farm life that lured Ralph and his father, Perry, to Canada in 1918. They were eking out a living with a few acres of wheat and a few scrub cattle near Delhi, Iowa. One day Ralph’s Uncle Charlie came back
from Canada with a handful of gold coins, saying, “Anybody can make big money up there.”
Fifteen-year-old Ralph, his dad and two brothers were impressed. They bought 320 acres of prairie at Hawarden, Sask., sixty miles south of Saskatoon, and were so eager to begin making big money that they lived in a granary for two months until their house was built.
They never did learn where Uncle Charlie made his fortune but,, obviously, it wasn’t in wheat.. For every good crop there were two failures. But the Haights stayed on with the prairie farmer’s dogged faith in next year.
One night, at a church young people’s social, Ralph met Sara Ledingham, a shy smiling girl his own age, who lived with her parents on a farm near Hawarden. After that he never thought of leaving Saskatchewan. Their courtship followed the simple pattern of the times: picnics, country
dances, wiener roasts and, sometimes, boating trips, if they could find a lake. Sara wore the stylish ear-hugging hats of the late Twenties; Ralph was a slender dashing figure in a straw Panama.
The Bumper Crop Never Came
In 1928, a good crop year, they were married, he in a plain dark suit, with a fresh haircut showing white against his sun tan, she in a simple white dress clutching a bouquet of chrysanthemums. They set up housekeeping with a new Chevrolet, one cow, 800 rented acres and boundless confidence in the future.
“I made the first payments on my new machinery that, fall,” says Ralph. “As it, turned out, they were the last I made for ten years . . .”
Jean and Joyce were born in the farmhouse in 1929. By then the depression was on so there was no money for a hospital bed. A nurse stayed two days to coach Ralph on bathing babies in a kitchen washtub. After that he was on his own.
Like his neighbors, Haight kept waiting for the “bumper crop” that never came. Early in 1933 he left Hawarden’s stony land for t he richer soil fifty miles north. He hauled his family to Floral by sleigh in midwinter. Muriel and Murray were five weeks old. Ralph had ten dollars cash.
“Looking back now, we sometimes wonder if we were in our right, minds,” says Mrs. Haight. “But. we thought we’d raise a crop up here.”
The Floral soil is a rich medium loam and in good years the bland level prairie waves for miles with fields of grain. But in 1933 Haight sold just one wagon-box of wheat,. The great drought was smothering Saskatchewan by then. When wheat did manage to grow, swarms of grasshoppers stripped the stalks. Only one crop flourished consistently—a prickly low-lying green weed called Russian thistle. Horses and cattle lived on it when
Four-H, in Turn, Taught the Kids
nothing else grew. That was far too frequently.
Dusi storms howled through the once-fertile farm land, burying barbed-wire fences, sifting through ill-fitting doors and windows, blacking out the sun. Often coal-oil lamps were lit in midafternoon. Like other Saskatchewan farmers, Haight sat helplessly at his kitchen window and watched a year’s hopes swirl past in clouds. Like other farmers he borrowed money where he could, ran up credit when he could and tried to feed his children and keep his farm running another year.
It was hard on machinery as well as men. The Chevrolet was ailing; its clutch slipped on hills so Ralph tossed sand into the gear box. When farm implements broke down he mended them with haling wire. Finally he had to have a new tractor and went to the local International Harvester agency.
“I’ll let you have it on credit but I’ll get hell for it,” said manager A. L. Elliott, now an International Harvester vice-president. Later, a senior did reprimand Elliott for taking the chance.
“We still have faith in Ralph Haight,” Elliott said stubbornly.
Recently Haight, who has bought machinery from the company ever since, met the same senior executive. The latter grinned and said, “Looks like you’re a safe credit risk now.”
But at that time the machinery company had more faith than Haight had in himself. He will not disclose the extent of his debts in the Thirties but he once told a friend, “I was so far in debt I thought I’d never get out. The only good thing was, I owed the banks so much they didn’t dare let me go bankrupt.”
Encouraged by a slim ten-bushel-to-the-acre crop in 1936 he moved a few miles to his present farm site, and in 1937 gambled everything on 1,200 aeréis of crop. That spring Alan and Anne were horn. That autumn Haight didn’t thresh a bushel of grain.
“Nothing grew, except Russian thistle, thick as hair on a dog’s back,” he says. “With eight kids to feed I was in a spot.”
“A few carloads of apples and vegetables were sent from the east, for which everyone was very thankful,” says Sara Haight. “Like many others, we received relief coal and groceries that winter.”
“I had to find some sort of security,” Haight continues. “We had about a dozen Shorthorn cattle that’d been keeping us in milk and meat, so we decided to try dairying.”
Haight went to the Saskatchewan Dairy and Poultry Pool, a co-operative marketing organization, and asked for a milk-selling contract.
“Can you feed your cattle all winter?” asked manager C. T. Gooding. “If we have to find feed for your herd we can’t award a contract. Too many of our present members are in that situation. We need new Continued on page 55
4-H and the Haights of Floral, Sask.
Continued from Page J 11
members who can look after themselves.”
Haight had feed, of a sort. He’d cut and baled twelve hundred acres of Russian thistle. Because he was one of the few farmers who could help himself, he got one of the two contracts issued in the Saskatoon district that autumn.
“That, and the children getting into l-H, were the two most important tilings that ever happened to us,” says I iaight.
This, coupled with the renewed prosperity of the F orties, put Haight on his feet again.
He changed his herd to Holsteins to improve milk production. He painted the homely two-story farmhouse where they have lived for 17 years, patched its broken plaster and windows, bought a Shetland pony to haul the children to Floral public school and began to pay off his debts. In 1942 he bought 18() acres of the land he’d been renting.
But something, he felt, was lacking. He wasn’t making the most of his new job. The children—especially Jean, who milked cows and did chores as well as a man—were growing up full of questions which Haight couldn’t answer. He wanted to show them the better side of farm life and interest his sons, at least, in making it a career. But Haight didn’t know how to whet their interest.
Purebreds are best
In 1944 Jack Lee, a former dairy farmer and then leader of the Saskatoon 4-H dairy club, called at the farm. Lee is a dairy recorder for the provincial Department of Agriculture; as such, he tests and records the milk production of dairy herds.
He was impressed by 14-year-old Jean’s thirst for knowledge and invited her to join. Jean, who now utilizes her 4-H knowledge as wife of Floral dairyman Ivan Robertson, soon was brimming with information.
She visited other farmers’ prizewinning herds and came home quoting their milk-production records and the high prices they’d obtained from purebred cattle sales. She learned to recognize the deep chest, wide rump, level back, squarely set legs and broad muzzle of a good Holstein. She pointed out flaws in her father’s non-purebred or “grade” herd.
“All of a sudden I found myself intensely interested in raising better cattle,” says Haight. “We learned to grow brome grass-alfalfa hay instead of ordinary slough grass hay. We added food concentrates to our chopped grain. Later we built a new barn and piped water directly to each cow in the stables. That way they drink more and it all helps produce more milk. Most important of all, we changed to purebreds, because of 4-H.”
Purebreds don’t necessarily yield more milk than good “grade” cows but they repay their owners in other ways, both in cash and prestige. Where a grade cow might sell for $300 to $400, a purebred might bring as high as $1,000. Haight’s herd is worth three times a similar size herd of grade cattle. Thus, when he sells a cow or calf he makes three times the money he’d make from grade sales.
Aroused by Jean’s delight in her new knowledge and new social contacts, Murray and Joyce joined the 4-H club and by 1949 six young Haights belonged to the 4-H club. They learned
the 4-H pledge: “I pledge my head
to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living for my club, my community and my country.” They learned that 4-H is an international movement embracing several million members and 44 countries. The name is said to come from a verse in Kipling’s poem, The Children’s Song:
Land of our birth, our faith, our pride. For whose dear sake our fathers died. Oh Motherland we pledge to thee Head, heart and hand through the years to be.
To this the fourth H for health was added. The movement began in Canada about 1912.
“To the best of our knowledge the only other 4-H movement in the world at that time was in the U. S. A.,” says James D. Moore, secretary-manager of the Canadian Council on 4-H Clubs. “The movement there originated about 1908.”
In 1931 the Canadian Council on 4-H Clubs was formed to co-ordinate the entire program. Today 32 national businesses, 12 national agricultural associations, and the federal and pro-
vincial departments of agriculture help finance the council’s work, including the national 4-H club week. On the local scale, many small companies, businessmen, service clubs and private individuals provide money and volunteer leaders for 4-H clubs.
Any rural boy or girl, ten to 21, can join. There is no membership fee, as a rule, but each member must agree to carry out a project demonstrating better farming or homemaking. Thus he — and often his parents — learn through actual practice.
A 4-H club may deal with clothing,
food, gardening, dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, poultry, grain, potatoes and tractor maintenance. Members meet formally six to eight times a year, usually in the local schoolhouse or some farmer’s living room. Meetings follow parliamentary procedure. Each club member takes a turn at being chairman and many a gawky farm boy comes out of 4-H with a knowledge of publicspeaking. The members discuss general topics (cancer, for example) and current events. They hold dances, picnics and excursions. But primarily they specialize in the farm topic of their choice. They hear lectures and read books and pamphlets on the subject, all made available by the local university or department of agriculture. At the end of the year, members often voluntarily hold weekly study sessions to bone up on their subject. In a way, 4-H club membership is like a condensed university course in some phase of agriculture.
Each club member concentrates on a special project. In a dairy club it’s raising a calf. On annual achievement day—the end of the club year—the calf is judged by experts. The young owner must then demonstrate his own judging ability as well as answer some fifty questions on agriculture, citizenship and world affairs. The two top point winners enter a provincial competition; the two provincial winners make the trip to Toronto for national 4-H club week, which coincides with the Royal Winter Fair.
There they spend a day competing with winners from other provinces: judging cattle and answering ten minutes of oral questions on 4-H work in general. Then they tour Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara Falls and the surrounding districts.
At the same time, provincial winners from poultry, grain, gardening and other types of 4-H clubs are also in competition. A province may enter a maximum of seven different club teams each year. Thus, out of the sixty-five thousand Canadian 4-H club members, only one hundred and forty or less can make the Toronto trip annually. But within a six-year span Jean, Joyce, Murray, Muriel, Ruth and Gail won it.
“No other family in Canada comes
anywhere near approaching that record,” says council secretary-manager Moore. “It may not be equalled for years to come.”
“They weren’t any smarter than the others but they sure worked harder,” says their former leader, Jack Lee, who now works for the Department of Agriculture.
Week after week the Haights tirelessly studied the art of exhibiting a calf: of leading it steadily, of keeping its feet out of holes and set squarely underneath it, so it will show to advantage before the judge; of nudging a lazy critter in the ribs to straighten out its backline; of watching the judge for the slightest signal or command.
Floral View barnyard was filled with Haights and calves marching in circles. Sometimes before a summer fair the eight Haights still tramp around the yard in the evening, rehearsing Qie prize cattle. Last year Muriel, a pretty brunette stenographer with the Prince Albert Agricultural Society, devoted most of her holidays to showing her father’s cattle at the exhibitions.
4-H Builds Confidence
By 1946 the hard work was showing results. Jean and Joyce represented Saskatchewan dairy clubs at Toronto, placing eighth in the national standing. A Saskatoon team went east again the next year. On it, Robert Brack, now Joyce’s husband, won the highest individual marks in Canada. Murray and Muriel were runners-up in 1949 and won the trip in 1950. The same year Ruth, now twenty and training to be a schoolteacher, went east on a poultry team. All three placed second in the national standings. A year later Gail, a slender 18-year-old student nurse, went down on a dairy team and placed third.
Now Anne, a 17-year-old high-school student, says, “If Alan and I don’t win the trip we’ll never live it down.”
Already they’re showing championship calibre. Last year Alan won first place in the Saskatoon dairy club but lost out in the provincial finals. By the time Anne and Alan are 21, Jean’s son Gerald will be of 4-H age. Gerald’s younger brother and sister will no
doubt follow the family tradition.
But prizes aren’t the sole object of 4-H participation for the Haights. “They put as much into it as they take out,” says Jack Lee. “When I was leader, it was just natural to say ‘We’ll go to Haights,’ when we wanted a place for a meeting or a picnic or a party.”
Several achievement days have been held at Floral View Farm. Each year, no matter who wins the Saskatchewan dairy-club championship, all the Haights see the winners off to Toronto at the railway station. In April this year, the Saskatoon dairy club played host for a day to ninety members from three other clubs. Everybody went to Haights for lunch, naturally, and a half dozen stayed overnight.
The 4-H associations were good for Murray and Alan, who, like many farm boys, were once shy and unsure of themselves. Wiry, fair-haired Murray was quiet and practical, didn’t care for sports at school, didn’t take piano lessons when his brothers and sisters did.
“They used to memorize that school poem about daffodils,” says Mrs. Haight, “and I’d tell them to try to picture a field of flowers. But Murray always said he couldn’t picture them if they weren’t there.”
But the training and fellowship of 4-H exploited his practical side and gave him poise and assurance. “I realized that in 1950,” says Jack Lee. “I was worried about Murray on that Toronto trip but on competition day he talked and joked with the judges like he’d known them all his life.”
At one lime chunky sunburned Alan was tongue-tied unless the conversation veered to football or baseball. But one day at a 4-H judging competition the members had to make a speech about judging cattle. “AÍ stood up and gave a dandy talk,” says his father. “It floored me—I didn’t think he could do it. Just the other day he was invited out to be guest speaker for another club.”
With the Haights, 4-H became the basis for a rare father-son companionship. Like any parent Haight groans when his boys buy draped trousers and he teases Alan about his close-trimmed brush-cut. (“If the mosquitoes ever light on your head, AÍ, they’ll bite right through that stuff.”) But where cattle are concerned the talk is strictly man to man. The boys run the farm now. Haight advises them but listens to their viewpoints too.
The years of work and worry taxed Ralph and Sara Haight’s health. Mrs. Haight, short, slow-spoken and still
shy, suffers from high blood pressure. Three years ago Ralph was bedridden for three months with a heart attack. He wanted to sell the herd then but the boys talked him out of it. Haight still wakes up at dawn and frets about the cows or the 1,100 acres of wheat, oats, barley and brome-alfalfa pasture. But there’s no reason for worry. Four-H has made competent farmers of his sons.
Each morning they rise at five. By five-thirty they’ve crawled into bluestriped coveralls and walked the hundred yards to the high-roofed red barn. The black and white cud-chewing Holsteins stand in stanchions, with individual drinking fountains, on clean straw-covered floors. Among them, placidly unaware that she is a cow of distinction, is Cardigan Rag Apple Viking Rose Rose, for short—who won three grand championships last summer.
In the barn Murray and Alan Haight become a well-trained team. With around thirty of the eighty Holsteins to be milked twice a day, every day of the year, there is no time for waste movement. Soon the barn is filled with the swish of hay tumbling from the loft, music from a mantel radio (“That’s partly for us, partly for the cows”) and the soft sucking sound of the pneumatic milking machine. It takes just three minutes for a machine to milk a cow.
While Alan feeds the herd chopped grain and hay, Murray and hired man Charlie Mears operate the machines, cleaning each cow’s udder with hot soapy water before applying the pneumatic tubes. Soon 15 milk cans—about 480 quarts—are cooling in a tank of ice-cold water, awaiting pickup and delivery to a Saskatoon dairy.
The Family Grew Stronger
“In a well-organized barn you shouldn’t spend more than an average of 16 minutes a day on a cow,” says Alan. “That includes feeding, milking and cleaning the stables. Four-H taught us that.”
More important, 4-H has strengthened the family’s ties. Most farm families drift apart when the children grow up but not so with the Haights. Although five are now married or working away from home, the healthy handsome well-dressed children are all back at Floral View on week ends.
On Sundays they fill three pews at the weather-beaten little Floral United Church. In the kitchen they use a long blackboard to relay the countless telephone messages, random notes like “Pick up Gail at noon” or “Last one in turn out the yard light,” or just to count up how many places to set for dinner.
As in most farm homes, everything —including all meals—takes place in the kitchen. In 1937 Ralph built an eight-foot kitchen table but it’s too short now. When family and in-laws are all home there are fifteen for dinner.
At dinnertime on week ends the kitchen table groans with pies, cookies, roast beef and of course milk. The air is full of chatter about jobs, dances, hoy friends, girl friends and cattle. Generally Ralph Haight joins the banter but sometimes he sits back quietly and remembers a time when the family wasn’t well-dressed or wellfed and the future didn’t look so bright.
Then his eye takes in the laughing group around the table, the green pasture outside speckled with sleek black and white cows, the clean white barnyard fence and—the key to it all —the standard gateway sign which reads “A 4-H member lives here.” Then Ralph Haight smiles with satisfaction and turns back to his noisy happy table. ★