Youth Livestock Projects on a Dime

Okay, so today it is probably more like a dollar.  Everybody is re-assessing how they spend their money and looking for ways to save money.  So where does that leave the youth livestock project?  Input costs such as feed, transportation, and health care are rising, add to that the risks associated with the project…what if my hog doesn’t make weight?  What if my steer gets sick?…many 4-H and FFA families are questioning whether they can afford to participate in a youth livestock project this year.  However, with commitment, careful planning and common sense, one may be able to reduce expenses, increase income, and lower risks.

First and foremost, youth that participate in livestock projects, and their parents, need to take a hard look at why they want to show an animal.  Be honest with yourselves.  Unless your purpose is to participate in a high quality learning experience, you shouldn’t waste your money on a livestock project.  In addition to learning how to feed, fit and exhibit an animal; the youth livestock project provides an opportunity to develop character and important life skills.  This type of learning experience is invaluable.  A commitment to this purpose will help you make decisions about your project, from the selection of your animal right through the writing of the last thank you letter.

When selecting your animal, plan ahead.  Know how much you can afford to pay for your calf or hog.  Estimate your feeding, health, and other costs.  For market animals, realistically estimate your sale price, find out what last year’s sale average was if necessary.  What is the difference?  Purchase your animal from a reputable breeder.  For market animals select a crossbred calf or hog to take advantage of hybrid vigor.  Consider the age, frame size, muscle, balance, structural correctness, and disposition of the animal.  If you purchase an animal that costs more than the difference between your estimated expenses and your estimated sale price, you have forgotten your purpose for this project and are cheating yourself out of a valuable learning experience.

Another way to save money with your project is to make sure your animal is healthy.  Preventive health measures, such as making sure your animal is de-wormed and has received the appropriate vaccinations, will insure growth performance.  Make note of withdrawal periods.

Check with your feed store before you start the project to find out what they carry and if the feed will be available through your project.  Feed a commercially available fully balanced ration and follow the label instructions.  You will not need to add any “other ingredients.”  The feed companies have scientists and researchers that compile these diets specifically for your animal species and growing stage, don’t try to do their job.  These feeds may cost more per pound to feed, but it is likely that you will need to feed far less and your animal will perform far better.  As a result they will likely cost less per pound of gain, reducing the overall cost.  For beef animals, provide plenty of hay that is high in dry matter in addition to the ration.

Lastly, one of the best things you can do is market your animal.  Even if your project is not a market animal, at some point you will have a product to sell, so market it.  Make contact with potential buyers.  Tell them about your project and don’t forget to tell them why you are participating in this project.  Market livestock exhibitors should ask individuals and/or businesses to come to the sale and bid on your animal.  The more buyers you bring to the sale, the more competition for your product and the higher the bid.  And don’t forget to thank your buyers for coming to the sale, bidding on your animal, and most importantly for helping you build character and important life skills.

So make the best of your livestock project; choose a good animal, keep him healthy, feed him well, market your animal, and thank your buyers.  A strong commitment to the learning experience, and not to winning, will pay dividends in life skills and may even make you some money despite these tough economic times.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (863) 519-8677 or bccarlis@ufl.edu.

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