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Animal Husbandry Projects Support Positive Youth Development

Return to 4-H Agent Articles

With the 2011 Johnson County Fair recently coming to a close, it allows for a time of reflection on accomplishments achieved, challenges overcome and learning opportunities our county's youth have experienced over the last year.

As the Extension agent responsible for the 4-H livestock project areas, I was constantly talking with 4-H'ers, parents and the general public at the fair. A highlight during these discussions was watching 4-H'ers interact with the public to discuss their projects. Frequent topics included conversation project's name and temperament, production challenges and how much they enjoyed raising their animals. Livestock projects have numerous benefits to 4-H'ers. Of these, I would like to reflect on a few highlighted over the course of our county fair week.

Responsibility – Daily feeding and grooming of an animal develops skills to care for others. Our county youth were constantly checking on animals, providing water and grooming. All 4-H projects require the perseverance to follow through with a project to completion. Probably one of the most long term endeavors is the beef project, requiring an animal be raised for 14-16 months to market weight. Through each 4-H'ers diligent efforts, the livestock auction sale price was the reward for a job well done.

Planning – 4-H'ers are required to plan for each 4-H year's project entries. At the start of the 4-H year (Oct. 1), members start considering what projects they would like to explore for the year, and then submit a participation form by May 1. Thereafter, the project entry forms and deadlines are a constant reminder of real life expectations. The ability to take care of personal organization is a life skill 4-H promotes. There have been numerous research studies on the emphasis employers place on people accepting responsibility for planning and meeting deadlines. 4-H assists with this life skill to meet deadlines and accept personal responsibility.

Family Involvement - Livestock projects should be a family affair. Ideally, 4-H livestock projects should be balanced family affair that places an emphasis on youth development and less on winning. Yes, the support of adults is needed financially, as transportation and positive mentorship. Many of our Johnson County families chose to spend a day at a livestock show and support each other. This community of project support truly demonstrates learning by doing.

Coping Mechanisms – Daily challenges require daily solutions. It was a pleasure to discuss with 4-H'ers their challenges involved with a project and the decisions made to remedy them. One example was the decision of which animal to bring to the fair. Being fortunate to have multiple animals weighed in at the spring show, this 4-H'er had the tough decision on which two animals to bring (out of five) to the county fair for showing. After about ten minutes of discussion I realized the decision making process of this twelve year old was supported (not dictated) by 4-H parents. The animals that came to the fair were selected based on how the animal handled (led/cooperated) and favorites; not necessarily the best animal to win at the show. The parents stated that they decided to emphasis a positive experience for the first year and less on winning.

Sportsmanship – There is only one Grand Champion in a given project area. It was a breath of fresh air to see some of our 4-H'ers shake the hands of the judge and fellow competitors in a given class at the end of the judging. True sportsmanship is the ability to support fellow participants regardless of class placing. Most participants have experienced the emotions of exceptional efforts and extreme disappointment through the course of a livestock project. More than one of our fair judges made comments to me about the graciousness of our 4-H'ers in helping others.

As Youth Development agents of Johnson County, I enjoy working with Johnson County 4-H families to learn problem-solving skills that can make a positive impact upon their home, community, county and world.