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COVID-19 response: Youth fair and livestock show participants connect with buyers in innovative ways

Across Florida, fairs and livestock shows were cancelled due to COVID-19. With animals ready to sell, youth can’t see the success of their hard work. UF/IFAS Extension 4-H agents around the state alongside partners and volunteers helped connect youth to buyers in innovative ways including online auctions, website listings and more.

The youth animal project lets students raise an animal from start to finish for sale at their local fair or livestock show. Students are responsible for every aspect of the animal’s care, including budgeting to raise the animal.

“We encouraged students to understand their absolute break-even point and asked them to keep an open mind to be able to negotiate,” UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County 4-H agent Nancy Moores said. “The families, kids, 4-H and FFA members sold 114 project animals. All animals that needed to be sold were sold, and we are really proud of that.”

Older youth put extra money made from their animal projects towards a college fund, UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County 4-H agent Pauline Daniel said. Many younger participants use the money to reinvest in a future animal project. Some of the children took out loans to raise the animals. Breaking even is often more than just a goal, it is necessary to avoid losing money.

“At the Suwanee County Fair and Livestock Show and Sale, more than 200 hogs were supposed to be sold and youth are still looking for buyers,” UF/IFAS Extension Gadsden County 4-H agent Evie Blount said. “These animal projects aren’t cheap. Costs start with the price of the animal, feed for the animal, vet bills and health certificates. It can get expensive. We encourage local buyers to support the clubs by purchasing a student’s project animal.”

Blount and her family pitched in to purchase two hogs from students in Suwanee County.

Recordkeeping, problem solving, disease prevention and personal safety are just some of the skills gained by youth that participate in animal projects.

“There are so many life skills that we can plug this project into,” Moores said. “Caring for that animal and connecting with it, making sure it is in good health and has a good life under their care, but also understanding that its life has a purpose and that is to feed people.”

Many youth are still tending to animals that require daily care, Daniel said. A lot of these youth are learning that these roles are considered essential in times of crisis like we are in now. Being in agriculture is essential and they are learning that. That animal needs to be fed. You still have to take care of them no matter what is going on.

“Sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect them to and you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move forward,” Moores said.

“The kids fell apart when they realized this was the end and that they would not get to sell and show. I am excited for kids that were able to sell their projects and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel even if it is different than they expected,” Daniel said. “With school cancellations and a lot of other things happening, this is a really tough time for youth, but they have been resilient. There is positivity out there and always something or someone to be thankful for.”

While most youth were connected with buyers, there are still students struggling to sell their animals. If you are interested in supporting youth in your area, reach out to your county UF/IFAS Extension  4-H agent to see how you can help.

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