“Forty-four surgeries,” Brantly Poling casually counted off. It’s the reality of living with spina bifida, a central nervous system birth defect. But, for Brantly, an 11-year-old Wood County 4-H member in West Virginia, the outdoors are calling, and he will break barriers and go.
4-H became part of Brantly’s plan when his 16-year-old cousin talked him into joining. And, for the Poling family, 4-H is truly a family affair centered around positive youth development.
At the forefront of his supporters is Brantly’s 7-year-old sister, Brylee, who helps her brother with the daily grind of raising livestock and the marketing of his livestock projects.
It’s not just showing livestock that has caught Brantly’s attention, though. Hunting may be an even more deeply-engrained passion, and pairing well with his turkey showing, Brantly’s a big fan of hunting turkey.
Through Holy Pursuit and the Outdoor Dream Foundation, Brantly has had the opportunity to pursue many of his dream hunts.
“I went to Wyoming and finished the Grand Slam for turkey hunting,” said Brantly, who traveled for hunts in South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Florida. But his favorite hunt was his first black bear hunt in Boone County, West Virginia.
“I killed the bear with a crossbow,” reminisced Brantly. “We were all sitting in the blind, and Mom and I were giving each other a hard time. Then, Dad says, ‘There’s a bear,’ I look at it and say, ‘No, that’s a deer’s nose.’ I looked at it again, though, and sure enough, a bear standing 30 yards away from us.”
It took a crane to get the bear out after he rolled down a cliff.
This year, Brantly showed a feeder calf, market turkey, and his miniature donkey at the Wood County 4-H and FFA Summer Showcase. His motivation? To buy a side-by-side to help his family feed animals and do farm work. And, thanks to his livestock buyers’ support, Brantly not only reached but exceeded his goals.
Just like anyone who has shown livestock knows, it’s a challenging game that makes for full summers. Trekking out in the mornings, Brantly would kick off his mornings by feeding, brushing his animals, and walking them. But his favorite part was learning about how to raise animals that will go on to feed people.
“I’m thinking about doing a goat,” said Brantly, who’s ready to take on the challenge after raising his feeder heifer this year. “My heifer decided pretty close to fair that she would walk pretty well for a while, then lay down and not get up. We’d have to get a food bucket and put it in front of her face to get her up. Or, my sister would ride her to get her up.”
To show, Brantly’s dad has modified a gun rest that attaches to his track wheelchair to help lead his calf.
“Brantly worked his calf so much that he really didn’t need the bar. But, it’s just a safety thing,” explains his mom, Brooke Poling. “Our place is a good place to desensitize animals, though. There are gunshots, kids running around, the wheelchair, and the track chair — someone is always getting pet.”
How does one get their calf gentle enough to show? “Spending lots of time with her,” says Brantly. His calf, named Becca (short for Because I Can), warmed up to him within two weeks, thanks to all of his daily handling.
Raising his 43.5-pound turkey, named Bro, posed its own challenges.
“He was a jerk. He bit my cousin four or five times and the other girl that was helping me six times,” laughed Brantly.
All of his hard work came to fruition at the county’s livestock sale. The same hospital that has helped ensure Brantly stays healthy enough to do the things he loves supported his feeder calf project. WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center and WVU Medicine Children’s purchased Brantly’s heifer and donated her back so Brantly can show her next year and, hopefully, breed her to raise some homegrown cattle.
Brantly had reached out earlier in the season to WVU Medicine to see if they would be interested in coming to the sale and supporting him. Then, WVU Medicine contacted the children’s hospital, garnering more support for Brantly and increasing his calf sale.
Another sale highlight was when United Construction and Chris Campbell purchased Brantly’s turkey for $8,000, topping the sale.
Brantly’s sister was at the forefront of organizing buyers for his turkey. “She got four to five potential buyers in two minutes — she did better than I did!”
“Whenever it got over $5,000, I was in the zone and wondered, ‘Did I just hear that right?” said Brantly. “When it got to $8,000, the whole barn was shaking because people were yelling.”
A pretty incredible sale for a 4-Her who hoped to sell his turkey just for $700 and his calf for $1,100.
“It felt really good to get out there and show people that even in a wheelchair, we can do stuff like this,” said Brantly.
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Heidi Crnkovic, is the Associate Editor for AGDAILY. She is a New Mexico native with deep-seated roots in the Southwest and a passion for all things agriculture