WEST FINLEY, Pa. — The roads in and out of rural West Finley Township are all twists and hills, and driving through it is not for the faint of heart.
The township census counted fewer than 880 people in 2010, and those people are spread over 39 square miles. It is so close to West Virginia that one wrong turn puts you across the state border.
Its remoteness, however, does not stop people from farming there or from participating in fairs and competitions. One family, the Minches, has been raising children on their family farm in West Finley for four generations. Currently, Charlie and Erika Minch are raising their girls, Lexi and Katie, on 10 acres purchased from the family’s 200-acre spread.
“Charlie was born and raised with dairy cattle,” Erika said, “and he showed steers and hogs in 4-H. My 4-H experience was in sewing, but our family raised beef cows to eat. Charlie’s family runs beef instead of dairy cows now, and we have continued the tradition of 4-H with our girls.”
Lexi, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, shows cattle and goats, while Katie, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, shows goats. Both girls know that the animals and the farm are a family affair.
“Katie doesn’t enjoy showing the cows, but she is right out there with us as we feed and work them,” Erika said. “She weighs feed for the cows, too. And Lexi loves the cows best, but she shows a goat and works with them as well, so that Katie’s has a stall mate, which encourages good growth.”
The girls begin working with the calves the July prior to their expected show date, as soon as they are weaned from their mothers. They go out before and after school to get the animals used to being handled.
Once school lets out for summer, the girls spend about two hours every morning at the barn, where they feed, wash, brush, blow dry, and condition the steers. They also prepare the feed for the evening session with the animals, where they condition and brush them again.
“We let the cows out into the lot in the evening,” Lexi said, “to get them off of the concrete. It makes their joints get stiff if they never get into the grass.”
Between the Washington County and West Alexander fairs, and the Keystone International Livestock Exposition (KILE) in Harrisburg, Lexi will show a total of seven head this season. That includes three market steers, two prospect steers, one bull and one heifer.
All of them are county-bred, and several of them come from the Minches’ own herd.
“We believe that part of farming is supporting other farmers,” Erika said. “So, even when we buy an animal, it is local. We don’t believe that the purchase price of an animal determines the outcome at a show, and we believe that to banner or win with something of our own means more than if we did it with the product of someone else’s work.”
The Minches rely on artificial insemination to help them select traits they want in their club calves. Last year, Lexi assisted with the AI of her first heifer, pushing in the straw under supervision of their AI breeder. The steer that was the result was named Joker.
“I showed Joker at the West Alexander fair and I took first place in my class and champion lightweight,” Lexi said. “I also won reserve champion showman. The man who bought Joker at the fair auction let me keep him for an extra month before he claimed him.”
That generosity allowed Lexi to show Joker in the KILE competition, where she took first place in the Division I lightweight category, putting her in the final drive. There, Lexi and Joker won reserve champion, beating out about 40 other calves.
Perhaps the idea of a girl from an area as rural as West Finley competing in an international competition &tstr; with a steer she helped breed herself &tstr; seems as remote as the area itself, but Lexi and her family are proving it’s possible every day.
“We are incredibly proud to be teaching our kids about raising livestock in a manner that is responsible and sustainable,” Erika said, “and we are also incredibly proud of how seriously they take their responsibility. At the end of the day, we are raising and sending to market a product that we are proud to have bear our name and that we would eat ourselves. Anything less is not a win, no matter where they place in competition.”