My 4-H Story: Bernie O’Rourke

My 4-H story started in Minnesota where I joined 4-H in 3rd grade (I’m going to age myself, NO Cloverbuds when I was a kid) and was a part of the program till I graduated high school. I am a product of many ancestors who grew up in the program – 4-H is definitively in my roots. I was raised on a diversified livestock and crop farm in South Central Minnesota where I was heavily involved in the animal projects, particularly sheep, beef & swine, however benefitted from many other projects areas. Some in particular were: photography, leadership, foods, clothing and citizenship. Both 4-H and FFA molded my career and my love for animals by being involved in livestock and meats judging teams as well as other knowledge contests. Because of my interest in animals, I received my B.S. degree in Animal Sciences from South Dakota State University where I was active in judging teams (livestock, wool and meats), Block and Bridle club president and many other related agricultural clubs. This fostered my interest in the meat science area leading me to University of Nebraska – Lincoln where I achieved a Master of Science degree in Animal/Meat Science. While in graduate school I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant in a number of courses as well as co-coach the Reserve National Champion Collegiate Meat Animal Evaluation team.  Prior to arriving in Wisconsin, I was a 4-H/Livestock Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, providing service in both 4-H and the animal areas for youth and producers.  I was able to continue with coaching youth meats and livestock teams where we traveled nationally to American Royal and the National Western Stock Show.

Currently, I’m the Extension Youth Livestock Specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the department of Animal Sciences, University of Wisconsin Extension. I provide leadership and support to the livestock project areas (beef, sheep, swine and meat goats) by sharing current research and practices to youth and adults engaged in 4-H, FFA and other youth organizations. My programming are in the areas of agriculture literacy and animal management, with primary leadership for the Meat Animal Quality Assurance program. I also teach the Career Orientation course for college undergraduates with an interest in the animal sciences area, Saddle & Sirloin club advisor and actively involved in local and statewide organizations.  My husband, Ron and I along with our 3 boys continue to be involved in each other’s family operations and managing our own sheep flock and hobby farm.  4-H has come full circle in our family with my 2 older boys in the Cloverbud program and very interested in the animal projects.

A key memory of my 4-H experiences was attending Citizenship Washington Focus (CWF).  This trip was a huge eye opener for this small town girl, not only because of the big city, but because of the leadership and citizenship skills I gained.

Youth programs such as 4-H and many others such as FFA, provided me many opportunities to showcase my talents, at the same time gaining life skills in decision making, responsibility and so much more.  Not to mention the many 4-H friendships and connections along the way.

Happy National 4-H Week!



Grand Champion Market Lamb – Minnesota State Fair



My dad (who started me with sheep) and my 3 boys with some of our flock.


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