Riley Dalke, 18, admits he was nervous when he led his pigs Sammy and Sadie before judges nine years ago in his first showing in the 4-H ring at MontanaFair.
“After the sale I was sad,” recalled the Worden native.
The 6-foot-tall, blue-eyed teenager is preparing now for his last go-round showing 4-H animals. He didn’t win any ribbons at his first MontanaFair, but there were plenty over the following eight years.
This year he’ll be showing two pigs, a steer, a heifer and a cow-calf pair. Dalke and hundreds of other 4-H’ers will be practically living at the Billings fairgrounds from Aug. 9 to Aug. 17. Over the years, Dalke has entered cattle, pigs and even a lizard.
His uncle Randy Sian, who ranches at Pompeys Pillar, and his mother, Bambi Dalke – both ranch kids – sparked his interest in raising livestock. His older sister, Shelby Shawn, now 22, introduced him to 4-H.
Raising show animals on 40 acres near Worden owned by his parents, Bambi and Lenny, has become a matter of course.
“All I have to do is keep track of how much I feed them and exercise them,” he said.
Every morning between 7 and 8 he feeds his animals and works them so they’ll be ready to strut their stuff before the judges. After a hard day’s work as a farm and ranch hand, he feeds them and works with them again.
“You have to halter break them and get them up to weight,” he said.
They also have to learn to be guided by a show stick in the arena.
“I like pigs the best,” he said, grinning at Shelby, who is working in the extension office this summer as a fair clerk. “It’s something my sister never showed.”
What he remembers most about his early years is the older members of the Huntley Eagles 4-H Club who mentored him and befriended him. Although they are spread far and wide now, he still keeps up with them on Facebook.
It’s his turn now, as president of the club, to be a friend and mentor to the 40 to 45 younger members working on their own projects.
“They are inexperienced, but willing to learn and willing to take care of their animals,” he said of the newest recruits preparing for their first fair.
In high school, Dalke was a member of both Future Farmers of America and 4-H. He credits those organizations with teaching him practical skills of daily living as well as how to be a better person.
During his career in 4-H, he worked three years as junior chairman for 4-H helping other members at the fair. He has also worked at showmanship clinics throughout Yellowstone County.
Following in the footsteps of his parents and sister, Dalke plans to enter Montana State University this fall. Scholarships from both the Montana and Yellowstone County 4-H organizations will help him on his way.
He plans to major in chemical engineering. College and work will probably keep him away from livestock for a chunk of his life, Dalke said.
“But when I’m 40 to 50 and have some money, I’ll buy some land and I’ll have animals,” he said.