“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
For those of you who don’t know, that is the 4-H pledge. Making a great livestock project experience takes all of the elements of the 4-H pledge.
• A clear head to focus on the education experience and dedication needed for a successful project.
• A strong heart for the patience and appreciation you will need and gain through raising livestock and competing in the show ring.
• A helpful hand to help fellow 4-H’ers, or your 4-H’ers, to care for and prepare livestock for shows.
• A commitment to the keeping healthy livestock, which will be rewarded when you enter the show ring with pride next to your animals.
According to Jeremy Elliott-Engel, 4-H youth development specialist and CPD for Newton County Missouri Extension, there are tons of benefits to showing livestock in 4-H.
“The biggest is that youth understand the responsibility it takes to take care of something other than themselves,” he said. “4-H’ers can see real life consequences for their actions. For example, if they don’t feed and water their animals when they need it the animal can get sick or have poor performance gains.”
According to Mark Russell, extension equine specialist for the University of Arkansas 4-H Shows, the greatest thing is responsibility, which is more than doing the chores. “Their progress earned through the responsibility of feeding and training their animal is shown in the show ring.”
What it takes to get started
Showing livestock in 4-H requires a commitment of time and money. “For those who want to show horses, it will be more time than other animals due to the necessary hours needed to ride on a regular basis,” Russell said.
When it comes to preparing and maintaining livestock projects, the most important thing is that they do their homework. “Research what animal is best for their situation,” Elliott-Engel said.
Parents and youth also need to prepare a budget before beginning anything. “Feed cost and show supplies vary for each type of animal, and everyone needs to know what they need to have,” Elliott-Engle said.
Regardless of the type, livestock need attention every day, at least twice a day. Feeding, watering, training and grooming need to be factored in on a regular basis, Elliott-Engle added.
“Youth who plan to show livestock need to be responsible for these tasks,” he said. “The younger they are the more guidance a parent should be giving but an older teenager should be able to do plenty with any type of livestock on their own. This all varies with the type of livestock and age of the 4-H’er.”
There are plenty of supplies needed to raise livestock and show them in 4-H. This may seem daunting on paper and for beginning 4-H parents, understandably, but thankfully many items can be used for multiple years if taken care of properly.
Typical items include feed buckets and containers, water buckets, lead ropes and halters, show sticks (hogs and cattle), grooming stands, blowers and cleaning supplies to prepare animals for show. This is another area a project leader can help new 4-H’ers and their parents establish what is actually required for their specific project.
“For horses, 4-H’ers also need a bridle, lead rope, saddle, hoof picks, saddle blankets, and other horse health and maintenance supplies,” Russell said.
What to show and why
It is recommended that younger and new 4-H’ers start with smaller livestock, such as market lambs. “With the smaller animal there is still the same responsibility but less danger to the 4-H’er, compared to a steer,” Elliott-Engle added.
Another concern is the cost to maintain animals and the project. “Most of us have budget constraints these days so it is understandable that 4-H’ers lean toward showing smaller animals that require fewer feed costs, such as chickens, goats and sheep,” Russell said.
Family experience also influences the type of animal you show. “Whether it is a parent or cousin, if they have always showed steers or sheep, 4-H’ers are likely to follow in their footsteps because they have the guidance they need,” Russell said.
Who to contact
Russell suggested that new 4-H’ers and their parents contact their county extension agent to figure out what they need to know to get started.
“The county agent can also provide information about events such as show clinics and other educational livestock opportunities in their area and state,” Russell said.
“Parents and 4-H’ers need to do their research when getting ready to buy animals,” Elliott-Engle warns. “They need to find a reputable breeder and remember that price is not everything. 4-H’ers need to know what they are looking for in a good show animal.”
A local club leader or county agent should help new 4-H’ers figure out the best method for purchasing livestock.
“When it comes to budgeting and planning for feed, feeding rations can be planned with the help of a feed store representative, county agent or local club leader,” Elliott-Engle said.
“They need to be patient as they learn new information about this educational experience,” he said. “Things may not always be easy at first, but they will get easier with time and experience. Showing and raising livestock is meant to be an enjoyable family experience, if it is not the parents need to step back and help the youth figure out what they need to alter to make it enjoyable and educational.”