Lessons from Youth Livestock Programs

Fair season is in full-swing. Some have already come and gone, and now we’re reflecting on what we can do better next year. How we should get the calves in earlier every morning and start feeding a different additive. Maybe we should try a new species or go to every jackpot show in the spring.

Showing livestock is full of what-ifs …

There is one thing that is certain. Growing up with responsibilities is important for children and helps them grow up into better adults. Raising livestock teaches kids so many things like helping out people in need, leading by example and it’s okay to ask for help.

We teach our kids to shake hands with the judge and to say thank you, shouldn’t we do the same?

Recently, editor Holly Martin talked about the 4-H program in an issue of the High Plains Journal.

The article, “All That is Right with 4-H,” talks about young kids who look up to older 4-H members and how often the older kids teach the younger kids to not be afraid of the animals and to work hard. They help them get their animals to and from the wash rack, and they often serve as mentors in many other aspects.

Martin says, “It’s a legacy. The responsibility of that legacy is passed down every year with no formal ceremony or fanfare. The 4-Hers who have the honor today didn’t ask for it. They simply knew that someone once helped them and that’s what you do. It’s what is right.”

One thing to keep in mind during this fair season is that it’s not always about the awards … the buckles, the banners or trophies … but instead about the lessons we’re teaching our children. Yes, we want our kids to do well and win a few things, thus rewarding them for all of their hard work.

But, will the winner of the Grand Champion Steer and the second place bucket calf get the same value out of their projects? 

Everyone needs a little help occasionally.

Instead of pushing awards and “being number 1” on our kids, maybe we should focus on the people they’re becoming instead.

“Those older 4-H members become role models. They are the “good kids” parents of young children feel happy their child can emulate. And perhaps that’s the best thing to watch: a younger child watching an older one doing what is right—not because it means they will win an award, but because they have learned kindness and leadership by example. Some day, when those older 4-Hers become parents themselves, only then will they appreciate how important their acts were,” Martin says.

As adults, we sometimes need to be reminded of the same lessons helping out people in need, leading by example and it’s okay to ask for help. Keep that in mind the next time you curse out the judge after a show. Showing livestock is more than banners, buckle and trophies. Let’s try to focus on the experience rather than the outcome.

 What did your time in 4-H or other youth livestock projects teach you?