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Reflections on 2019; or, Why I have the Best Job

Looking back on 2019, I am reminded that is was an extremely busy year.  I traveled with 4-H youth on several out-of-state trips, I visited youth, volunteers, and agents in dozens of Florida counties.  Most importantly, I got to see our 4-H members make the best better.  I get to witness these 4-H members as they mature into thriving adults.  I am confident that these youth will continue to contribute to their communities, their country, and their world.

Perhaps it is appropriate, on my last day in the office of the calendar year, to document some of the highlights of 2019 in the world of 4-H dairy and animal science that I got a chance to be a part of throughout the year.   I am extremely happy to be able to work with some of the best young people on our planet.  Some of the highlights of this year, and an investigation into the type of 4-H members I get to work with, will only serve to bolster my opinion of why I think I have one of the best jobs at UF/IFAS.

Kids practicing dairy judging, Summer 2019.

Overall 4-H Dairy Program

The Florida 4-H dairy program had a very successful 2019.  Our overall number of youth participating in some aspect of the dairy project state-wide was up significantly from 2017-18.  Florida youth won or placed in the top five in several national contests this past year, including 1st place finishes in dairy quiz bowl, dairy judging, and public speaking.  Our 4-H volunteers and state youth dairy committee members remain dedicated to these youth, and invest hours (and their skills) to help young people succeed in their projects.  Florida dairy farmers remain generously supportive of the program, which is imperative for the program to succeed.  Special thanks are due to our hard-working Florida dairy farmers for your continued support of youth dairy programs in our state.

Youth participating in the 4-H dairy project are highly engaged and are laying the groundwork for successful careers as they gain skills through participating in their 4-H projects and other 4-H events and activities.  Several youth have set the goal to work in the dairy industry or other agriculture industries when they grow up.

Dairy Judging

Florida 4-H strives to provide positive youth development for participating youth through a variety of hands-on educational opportunities to help place these young people on a trajectory to thrive as adults.  The 4-H dairy judging program provides an opportunity for youth interested in dairy science to learn about evaluating live dairy cattle for quality and traits that predict their value as a producing dairy cow.  This helps young people learn advanced dairy science principals, public speaking through the presentation of oral reasons on why they evaluated a class of cattle in a particular manner, decision making skills as youth have a fixed amount of time to evaluate a class of animals, as well as critical thinking skills and, through success, enhancing self-esteem and self confidence in participating youth.

Florida 4-H sponsored four dairy judging contests throughout the state in 2019, attracting several hundred youth participants.  We invite the best senior youth from around the state to participate in summer dairy judging workouts, after which time we choose youth to represent Florida at national 4-H judging competitions.

This year Florida had four youth on the national team that competed at the All American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The Florida team won 1st place. The Florida 4-H Youth Development Program was represented by four members from the Florida 4-H Dairy program, including Austin from Hillsborough County 4-H, Julia from Sumter County 4-H, Nicholas, also from Hillsborough County 4-H, and Shelby from Okeechobee County 4-H. Together, as a team, they were named as the overall champions for the entire contest, placing first overall!  Florida 4-H also won 1st place at the Alabama State Fair, which is open to any team from Alabama, Georgia, or Florida.

4-H Dairy Heifer Chain

I was also excited to create the 4-H Dairy Heifer Chain.  In this unique project, thanks to generous donations of a Jersey heifer from Irish Oaks Farms, and a Brown Swiss heifer from Family Tree Enterprises, two Florida youth are now able to own their own registered dairy animal and participate in the 4-H dairy project.  These youth will care for these animals, and when their animals have a heifer calf, two more 4-H members will receive those animals as their own 4-H project.   Congratulations to Tucker in Escambia County and Zachary of Walton County on being chosen to own these heifers, and welcome to the 4-H dairy family!

4-H Livestock Ambassadors

Texas A & M has been training 4-H Livestock Ambassadors in that state for a decade now, but this year they did something they haven’t done before-invite youth from other states.  In 2019 they piloted offering this program to youth from select states, and Florida was able to send two youth to train as youth livestock ambassadors.  I am very proud of Shelby from Okeechobee County, and Hunter from Union County.  They have been through the intense training, and are now giving back to the Florida livestock industry by donating their time promote and educate about the benefits of animal agriculture, as well as the importance of high-quality animal protein, in our food system.  I am very proud of these young people..

I am honored and humbled to to work with some of the best youth and volunteers in one of the best overall 4-H programs in the nation. Looking ahead to 2020, I am extremely thankful I get to continue to work with our 4-H dairy, livestock, and poultry youth and volunteers.  I will do my best to provide you all with the best educational experiences, and to provide you all with the highest-quality youth development and animal science experiences that I can.  Thank you, thank you, thank you all for being so amazing.  Happy holidays!