If we want to keep eating, we need to keep teaching youth about agriculture. Raising and showing livestock at county, district, and state fairs is a long tradition of 4-H and FFA but it’s not just about ribbons and prizes. It’s about the future of farming, developing an understanding of herd management, record keeping, feed conversion, and understanding where our food comes from. Those youth taking on these projects take on a multitude of challenges with the idea they will learn more by doing.
Regardless of the size of the animal, the project undertaking is a large commitment. From steers and swine to pullets and rabbits, youth raising or showing animals in 4-H are required to do a variety of tasks that all develop life skills. A few we don’t often consider are:
Time management – Feeding before and after school as well as weekends and holidays; making time to work the animal; bathing or grooming; practice showmanship; and balance all these with school work, family functions, sports, and other commitments.
Public speaking – Each youth is required to prepare and present a demonstration or illustrated talk to reflect and share on something they have learned; exhibitors ages 8 and up are required to participate in showmanship which includes speaking to the judge; all exhibitors are expected to approach businesses and bring buyers into the barn.
Critical thinking – What do you do when your steer isn’t gaining at the right rate? What if your rabbit is pulling hair? Chicken feathers the wrong color? The judge asks you to change animals with another exhibitor, how do you handle that?
Some of the more well-known life skills learned are:
Record keeping – Every exhibitor must complete a record book that includes health management, feed allotments, feed conversions, average daily gain, activities related to the project, and all expenses.
Marketing – Selling your animal is all about selling yourself. Youth are also expected to promote the program, the shows, the auctions, and the overall fair. Each exhibitor is expected to write buyer invitation letters, thank you letters, and to visit businesses promoting themselves and the shows.s
How Can 4-H Help?
The 4-H Youth Development program is experiential in nature; it’s about learning by doing. Within this style, youth are actively involved in their own learning and two of the steps, SHARE and REFLECT, are opportunities for youth to practice public speaking. In the share stage, youth provide a summary of what they experienced and learned in the form of demonstration or illustrated talk. For those in performing arts, they may share an act or performance. In the reflect stage, they speak to others about their knowledge gained and how it can be further applied in life and in succeeding. By creating opportunities year after year for children to speak in front of their peers in a non-threatening, speak-to-succeed way, they begin the process of overcoming this anxiety. Throughout the year, volunteer leaders with whom the youth has trust and who has created a safe environment for their members, teach the steps to successful speaking, combatting the negative emotional reactions and thereby lessening the negative physical reactions.