Positive Aspects Of 4-H Livestock Shows

It seems far too often we place too much emphasis on winning and losing at 4-H livestock shows. Unfortunately, many times adults consider 4-H livestock projects a failure if their son or daughter doesn’t win. If our only goal at a livestock show is to win, maybe we need to make some adjustments in our goals and in understanding the benefits our youth are gaining from livestock shows.

Ideally, 4-H livestock projects should be a family affair. If youngsters and parents spend the right percentages of time and energy together, these projects can help our young people learn basic life skills and eventually help them develop into better citizens. If the percentage gets our of hand, we see a group of spoiled kids whose parents are sore if they don't win, constantly criticizing the judge and trying any trick possible to win.

Very few 4-H livestock projects are economically sound. However, neither is having children, paying for band lessons, taking them to summer recreation programs, buying them bicycles and paying for other youth activities. If a parent's goal is for the child to make money, investing in a savings account is less risky than investing in a 4-H livestock project. However, if a parent's goal is to invest in the future and to help their son or daughter develop as a person, learn responsibility, set goals and gain some knowledge about livestock production, then 4-H livestock projects are a low cost investment.

Most likely we’ll have livestock shows as long as there are children who have parents and grandparents. However, let's keep these shows in proper perspective. They aren’t beef, swine, sheep, dairy or horse shows, but they’re kids shows. The animal is simply the ticket for the child to take part.

Through schools, the Extension Service and other educational units, we constantly hear of improved teaching tools to better equip our young people for life. As we analyze all the new and innovative ideas, many of which are quite sound and very excellent methods, we find 4-H livestock projects are some of the oldest and greatest teaching tools that we have to teach youth life skills.

Following are some life skills a 4-H'er can gain:
1)How to get along with people. A large number of people in society quit or lose their jobs because they cannot get along with others. 4-H’ers who show livestock are around people they have never met but have similar interests. They learn to communicate with these people.

2)Sportsmanship. At a livestock show, there is only one Grand Champion. However, there are many winners. Most 4-H’ers who show livestock for any period of time usually experience the extreme high feeling of an exceptional effort and the extreme disappointment of a project that didn't turn out as well as was expected. Normally, win or lose, the competitors in the show ring (the 4-H’ers) can be seen after the show talking and enjoying life together.

3)Responsibility. Feeding and daily chores in a 4-H livestock project teach responsibility. Top feeders follow the time clock in their daily efforts. This is a good habit to start at a young age and may reap substantial benefits in a career later in life.

4)Attend to details. Most young people take care of major items in a 4-H livestock project like feeding, etc. However, many times it's the little things that make a difference: keeping water tanks and feed troughs clean, working on grooming and showmanship several months before the show, keeping pens clean and close observation for sickness and disease. Paying attention to details is beneficial in almost everything we do in life.

5)Decision making. Making decisions is never easy at any point in our lives. 4-H livestock projects require several key decisions be made: selection of project animals, selection of feeding method, care and management decisions, grooming, etc.

6)Goal setting. For every successful 4-H livestock project, there is usually a good plan. Most details and plans for the project on selection, feeding, and management of the project has been planned well in advance. Goal setting is important for everyone regardless of future endeavors.


Are 4-H livestock projects successful? We may hear some negative things about them, but these projects are a long way ahead of whatever is in second place in helping teach our young people to adjust to life. Next time you are at a livestock show, study the kids instead of the animals. You’ll notice that most classes have several winners, not just the one standing in first place.

Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.