4-H members have a lot to do before packing the tack box

Livestock projects require a lot of work before they are ready to go to the fair.

Before the tack boxes and trailers arrive at the show, 4-H members and leaders are busy learning about their animals, and that process starts well before the animal arrives at their farm or home. Members need to learn about how to select an animal, house, feed and care for their animals. Volunteers, leaders, staff and parents may all be involved in this process and it can be a lot of fun when we utilize resources like the Livestock Learning Lab Kits from Ohio State University Extension, 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lessons from Michigan State University Extension and resources from National 4-H Supply. Many activities can be turned into scavenger hunts, games and fun activities for a variety of ages so they appeal to the whole club.

Families may learn about the different breeds so they can decide which may be the best fit for their lifestyle and needs. Livestock projects take a great deal of time and can vary significantly in cost, so doing some homework before selecting your project is wise. 4-H encourages members to keep records of their projects and offers resources like the Michigan 4-H Market Animal Project Record Book and the Cloverbud Animal Record Book. They can keep track of feed, housing and medical costs. They should be planning ahead for the time it will take to work with their animals and provide a suitable living environment.

Members must learn how to prepare their animals for the show ring. Members may start working with their animal the moment it arrives at their home; it can be as simple as talking to your animal or as difficult as teaching the animal to walk on a lead or with a halter. If you think those with small animals have it easy, don’t be so quick to judge. Flipping a guinea pig or rabbit over for examination during showmanship can be a challenge, especially when the member has not put in the time to practice with their animal.

Grooming and caring for an animal can take a considerable amount of time, effort and expertise. Leaders and experts from the field make great resources for members and enjoy teaching the next generation how to properly clip, comb and prepare the animals for the show ring. 4-H alumni can be very helpful and often help in this process. Learning to wash a steer, pig or chicken all take a bit of skill and someone who has experience is the best teacher.

Preparing for the show ring or table is more than just having an animal looking good and being in great condition; you must also know facts about your species and specifically the breed you are showing. You may want to know facts about the industry since the judge may ask you some questions from any of these areas. This may sound like a lot of work and you are right, but for these exhibitors, it is part of the project. Each year, they show their knowledge by answering tough questions, learn from their experience and grow through their project.

Members may also participate in fun events like quiz bowl, skill a thons, written tests, jeopardy games, shows and events throughout the year. 4-H offers events like the State 4-H Rabbit and Cavy Expo, 4-H Animal and Veterinary Science Camp, 4-H Beef, Sheep and Swine Teen and Adult Leaders Workshop and the State 4-H Goat Expo. The variety of opportunities offer youth with different learning styles and interest areas the opportunity to learn in different settings, achieve a wide range of goals and interact with individuals from all over the state. As they develop their skills they gain confidence, explore career opportunities, discover new friends and have fun.

The next time you visit the barn or stop by the show ring and see members wearing their show clothes with that ribbon hanging out of their back pocket, know it was all part of something much bigger than the week the animals are on display. That coveted ribbon is a status symbol to every 4-Her and symbol of a job well done. It represents more than the time in the ring, but the project experience that took place over an extended period of time. What you see in the barn is just a glimpse of the project; the real story is what happened before the animal joined the fair display.

What happens before the tack box gets to the barn is more than you can imagine; the lessons learned are greater than words can express. To be part of that experience is a blessing for parents, leaders, volunteers and members; they all experience the magic of 4-H.

If you want to be part of the magic of 4-H, contact your local MSU Extension office and find out how to join or become a 4-H volunteer

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