The legacy of 4-H is strong in Miles’ Branham family. Garry and Phoebe Branham are products of 4-H; Garry’s grandparents and parents were part of 4-H; Phoebe and Garry both grew up 4-H. Now their daughters, Payton who is 13-years old, and Paysley who is 10-years old, are members of 4-H, making them the 4th generation of the family to be part of 4-H. Garry is the district 4-H Specialist and covers 23 counties. Phoebe is the EMR outpatient manager at Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo.

Once you’ve spent 5 minutes with Payton and Paysley, you can see for yourself that they exemplify what you expect from a kid involved in 4-H. They’re intelligent, they’re friendly, they’re knowledgeable, they’re polite and they’re always busy. Always.

This is Payton’s 6th year in 4-H and Paysley’s 3rd year. The girls show rabbits, both meat rabbits and breeding rabbits. Raising rabbits is just a small part of their 4-H life because the girls also participate in the Livestock Skillathon, Food Challenge, Food Show, Wood Judging and record book keeping. Phoebe, who is a former wool judger, is the wool judging and Food Challenge coach. The Food Challenge is the hot topic in 4-H over the last few years. In 2019, there were 22 Food Challenge teams just in the Runnels County 4-H. Garry says that the category is growing fast, “The Food Show is the biggest competitive event in the district. We have 400-500 kids participating in it in the district.”

Payton has participated in the Duds to Dazzle competition while Paysley has participated in the Fashion Show competition. Paysley has also participated in the Education Presentation with the subject of her presentation being rabbits. She brought home the 2nd place trophy from the district competition for her presentation.

The hard work that the girls put in to raising their rabbits has paid off with Payton taking Overall Grand Champion in rabbits and Reserve Grand Champion for breeding rabbits at the 2018 Runnels County Junior Livestock Show. The accolades keep coming as Paysley won Reserve Grand Champion for breeding rabbits in her first livestock show 3 years ago. Both girls won 1st place at the county food show. Paysley won the district food show in 2018.

The family also has a commercial sheep herd, as well as chickens, donkeys, peacocks, horses, ducks, guinea fowl as well as a llama.

Garry believes that 4-H provides a solid experience for the girls, “They’ve both done a good job applying what they learn in competition to the real world. All of Payton’s competitions and speaking have helped her in school and with presentations. “ Phoebe says that she’s enjoyed watching her girls experience the same 4-H that she experienced when she was growing up, “It’s really been fun to watch them as they grow and learn more and more over the years. 4-H is beneficial and helps the kids in so many ways.”

Both girls attend Miles ISD and in addition to their 4-H endeavors, there are the usual school endeavors. Payton plays volleyball for her school and Paysley plays volleyball through the YMCA. Payton has also competed in UIL and is the school band. Both girls are also altar girls at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Ballinger. Using the word “busy” in describing the Branham family life is an understatement, to say the least.

Garry says that 4-H has a 3-tiered structure, “4-H teaches project development, leadership and service.” Phoebe concurs, “4-H is a really well-rounded activity. The 4-H kids are the future. They’re the ones that we want involved in decision making.” Garry was a county extension agent for a decade and says that the livestock shows are evolving, “When you go to the livestock shows now, even the larger ones like Houston or Ft. Worth, you see that they have designated study areas for the kids. The kids are missing school to participate in these events and the livestock shows are addressing that.”

When it comes to food and nutrition, Payton is the young lady who can answer your questions. Her favorite food is tacos and she knows all about peppers, “I enjoy the Food Show and Food Challenge more than anything else. I enjoy cooking. I also like peppers.” Garry says that Payton has eaten peppers and spicy food since she was a toddler, “We’d be eating at a Mexican restaurant and she’d be picking up chips and dipping them in the salsa. Her face and lips would be red from the heat but she’d keep eating them.” Payton tells me that bell peppers rank lowest on the Scoville Scale and are the least spicy pepper in the world, “Dishes with peppers have a Scoville rating.” She also discusses ghost peppers, habanero peppers and other peppers, doling out a short educational briefing on the subject matter.

For Paysley, her favorite part of 4-H is showing rabbits. Garry says that she easily handles the rabbit work, “She selects the rabbits to breed and then puts them together and keeps records on them.” Showing rabbits go hand-in-hand with cooking for Paysley, “My favorite food is fried rabbit. I wanted it for my birthday so mom cooked it for us.” She’s not kidding. Her eyes get big and her face lights up when you say, “Fried rabbit.” She is serious about raising rabbits and can tell you about judging fur and shape for breeding rabbits versus muscle, mass and weight of fryer rabbits, “You want to make sure that they have a good loin, have a lot of meat and are at the right weight. Breeding rabbits need to have a nice coat, round body and good structure.” The rabbits have to be at a specific weight to show. Any rabbits over the maximum weight are disqualified, “It’s not fun when your rabbits get disqualified. That happened to us in San Angelo. You learn something new at every show.”

The 4-H life spans generations and Phoebe says some 4-H parents have a bond that was formed long ago, “As parents, we watch out kids in 4-H with the kids of other parents who I was in 4-H with myself. You never lose those connections.” Garry says that any 4-H parent will tell you that 4-H involves the entire family, “I’ve heard over the years a lot of the families will describe a project as their kid’s project. But, it’s really a family endeavor. If you go to a sporting event, you get to watch your kid play and put to use what the coach taught them. With 4-H, you watch your kids compete with the effort that you and them put in together.”

The 4-H life isn’t a, “do it when it’s convenient” type of life. The work required to raise an animal for show or to participate in the Livestock Skillathon, educational presentation, Food Show, Food Challenge, etc., builds a strong work ethic. Phoebe says that the kids will each spend 8-10 hours a week on 4-H-related projects, “Sometimes practices can take hours.” Garry says the options for 4-H activities continue to expand, “Now there are many more different directions to go in than when Phoebe and I were in 4-H.”

Paysley says that the learning never stops, “We have to practice and memorize facts and other information for things like the Skillathon or the wool judging. Like with wool, it has to be clean, it has to have good weight so you have to weigh it, heaviest to lightest and you have to take long samples and determine which wool is the highest yielding.”

Garry says there is a myth about 4-H that should be dispelled, “People think that because they don’t have a show animal, that they can’t be in 4-H. That’s not true. There are many, many different areas to participate in if you want to be part of 4-H.” Garry’s maternal grandfather went to 4-H Nationals in Chicago back in the 1930s, “They took a Santa Fe train to Chicago. He was very organized and was the first president of the Adult Leaders Association in McCulloch County.

One of the most important aspects of 4-H is in service to the community. Phoebe says that Gayle Kalina is the manager of the Miles 4-H club and believes in service, “Every month Gayle has a service project. One service project is that every November the kids create and serve a Thanksgiving meal to the senior citizens. Last year the kids painted candy cane decorations and put them up around town this year. They painted the baseball field and cleaned out the Ag barn. In the past we’ve done aluminum can drives. Service is a very important part of 4-H.”

Payton offers some additional insight into the life of a 4-H kid, “Some kids at school will go home and talk about watching television. I’m like, ‘I was at 4-H until 9 p.m.’”