What is the benefit of the 4-H Livestock Project? I am sure it is different for every 4-H’er depending on their goals and personal situation. As I write this short article, I could give you the typical answer of it builds character, creates discipline, teaches youth about agriculture, teaches sportsmanship, etc., etc. While all of that is true and right on point, I am not sure that it does justice to the core of what the 4-H Livestock Project can and does do for our youth.
To me one of the greatest values of the 4-H Livestock Program is that it allows 4-H’ers the opportunity to gain confidence in themselves by caring for something that is 100% dependent on them. I remember a young 4-H’er who was uncomfortable getting in a pen with the heifer that was to be his show heifer that year, but he had to because without him the heifer could not eat or drink and could not have a clean place to live. Over time, he gained the confidence he needed to complete the project. In the years since that heifer he has showed steers at our county show and major shows. Today, he no longer shows cattle, but is routinely asked to show for other exhibitors when they have multiple animals in the same class. While this 4-H’er learned how to show cattle, the important life lesson is the self-worth and confidence he gained that will help him get through tough spots in his life and challenges that lie ahead.
The other major value I see in the 4-H Livestock Project can be said in one word “Family”. When it is done right there is no better activity that promotes family time and the opportunity for a family to work side by side on a common goal. As surveys and reports keep pointing out the fact that families spend less time together, families that participate in 4-H Livestock Projects together have the opportunity to spend time together. As a 4-H dad I love Saturday and Sunday mornings feeding with my son and just sitting there watching animals eat. What better time to talk about school, his dreams, goals, and problems. Finally, as the project year comes to an end and we put his animal on the truck I get to help celebrate our success and also comfort him through the loss of a friend, just one more life lesson that will stick with our 4-H’ers throughout their life.
By Marty Vahlenkamp