Extension Agent: Livestock project work symbol of 4-H
By Sam Womble
Livestock shows? Isn't that just for the country kids who don't really have anything else to do? As ironic as this may seem, you might be surprised how many people honestly see very little to no value in participating in youth livestock projects.
The reality is that livestock project work has become a symbol of the Texas 4-H Program. Texas ranks No. 1 in total livestock shows, prize money rewarded to youth, participation, volunteer support and scholarships provided. More than 75,000 livestock entries are accounted for by youth annually.
By participating in livestock projects, youth learn life skills. They learn to make ethical decisions, keep records and how to produce safe, wholesome food. Having an animal project to manage requires commitment, dedication, and responsibility.
As I reflect on my experiences as a youth livestock exhibitor, family time, friendships and the joy of competition rise to the top. I credit my dad for my interest and passion in livestock project work. As an Agriculture Science Teacher for more than 30 years, dad had a long list of accomplishments and successes. He instilled values of responsibility, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic to his children. Showing livestock was definitely a family affair.
The places we visited and people we met were important. Many of the personal and professional contacts made 20 years ago remain today. Some of my best friends and colleagues are the same people I showed livestock with as a youth.
The feeling of accomplishment in a competitive livestock show is unmatched. Knowing that your hard work and dedication has paid off is a wonderful feeling. The attitudes and skills learned are the most important part of the experience.
Several years ago, a study conducted by Boleman (2003) evaluated parents' perceptions of what youth gain from raising and exhibiting livestock projects. Parents of youth participating in 4-H livestock projects suggested that life skills are being enhanced. According to parents of these youth, the seven life skills that revealed the highest levels of enhancement were accepting responsibility, setting goals, developing self-discipline, self-motivation, knowledge of the livestock industry, building positive self-esteem, and decision making. They also indicated that there is indeed a low to moderate, positive relationship between years of participation and life skill development. This suggests that the longer children actively engage in the project, the more likely they are in developing life skills that will hopefully make them more productive as adults.
Bottom line: Positive character building traits are important. So the next time you hear someone question the value of raising an animal project for a livestock show, understand this . it's not about how much money was won or who had the class winner, it's about participating in an activity that truly prepares and develops young people for life's challenges.
Sam Womble is a Victoria County extension agent-natural resources.