Anna McIntyre, 16, has had a fondness for cows since she was a small child. But in Brookfield, cows are hard to come by.
"I just love cows, but I live in the suburbs of Brookfield," said McIntyre, a student at Heritage Christian School. "When I was little, I would literally go up to nearby farms with my dad and just ask to pet the cows. But, even then, I wanted something more hands on."
While attending the Waukesha County Fair a few years ago, McIntyre realized how to make that interest a reality.
She discovered the Brookfield Blazers 4-H Club at the fair. More specifically, she discovered the program's Dairy Club.
The Brookfield Dairy Club, composed of 20 Brookfield children of all ages, meets once a month at Burleigh Elementary School. Members earn hands-on experience with dairy animals through a partnership with the Cozy Nook Farm in Waukesha. The club leases animals from the farm for the students to care for and to showcase at the county and state fairs.
Cozy Nook leases animals to other student organizations in the area as well, said farm co-owner Tom Oberhaus.
"All we aim to do is give kids the opportunity to work with the animals," Oberhaus said. "If kids like working on the farm and want to really sink their teeth into doing it, I say go for it."
Cozy Nook Farm was established in 1834 near Goerke's Corners in the Town of Brookfield. The farm was later relocated near Delafield in 1957, after the Brookfield property was purchased by the state to construct Interstate 94. The farm is located at S11 W30780 Summit Ave.
"It wasn't too long ago when Brookfield was a strong dairy community," Oberhaus said, "but the number of farm families began to dwindle. It hurt deeply to watch that slip away and disappear."
Allowing children to work with the animals injects some interest back into farming, he said.
The experience has led some 4-Hers into farming-based careers, said Jamie Udulutch, a Dairy Club leader.
"We have some former members that went on to work on farms and others who studied agriculture in college," said Amanda Condon, a dairy club leader. "One member is now working on becoming a veterinarian."
The Dairy Club functions differently than other 4-H groups, with members who live in rural areas and tend to their own farm animals. But that may prove to be an asset, Condon said.
"I almost think that people who have to borrow the animals have a greater appreciation (than) those who don't," she said.
Ready for the fair
Club members met at the farm last weekend to spruce up their animals one last time before the Waukesha County Fair, which began Wednesday.
The unique bond that forms between a young suburbanite and a farm animal is why most members return to the club each year, said Condon, who first joined the Dairy Club when she was nine years old.
Condon said it's not too uncommon for club members to stay with their animals during fairs — to the point of taking a nap or camping for the night next to them.
"There's always a leader or supervisor that keeps an eye out on the barn to make sure the animals don't get out," she said. "But there have been plenty of nights when we used bales of hay for a bed."
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