December 2007
4-H Extension Corner

As I write this, what a beautiful fall we have going in November, the month of Thanksgiving. This article comes to you the first of December and I know all of you are busy heading into the biggest holiday of the year, Christmas. What a great day to celebrate and spend time with family; I hope you have lots of fun and memories started during this time! And get some rest, you are about to start 2008. Make it Great!

Two different pieces are in this month’s letter – make sure you read both. As we start a new year, I hope it makes you think about educating the youth of Alabama!
Internet Usage

Many of today’s teens spend hours upon hours sitting on their "front porch" chatting with their friends. They chat about school assignments; they talk about church or sports activities; they flirt and ask the eternal question "Who likes who?" But unlike past generations, today’s "front porch" is an electronic location where kids gather and talk, share music and photographs, and develop their friendships and romantic relationships.

Some parents and educators are fearful of the new electronic landscape, and clearly there are risks involved. However, we need to accept that text messaging, Facebook, MySpace and instant messaging are here to stay - and over the next decade we can only guess what new and innovative methods young people will find to communicate with one another.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about these communications methods. Certainly, there are abuses, given the opportunities people have for anonymity. And like any other social setting, there can be bullies and victims, snubs and hurt feelings, and harmful gossip. There can be some tough lessons kids learn about trust, communications and groups.

It is important for parents to stay informed, both about the new technology and how our kids are using it. Take some time to look at MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. Find out what a blog is and see how churches, 4-H clubs and youth groups are using these sites to keep kids connected. For example, you can learn a lot about your community by doing a web search using such terms as "MySpace" and "Clanton" and "Alabama."

Ask your child to show you his or her social web sites. That shouldn’t be too much to require, especially if you are providing the computer and the Internet connection. Perhaps ask them to show you how to set up a FaceBook or MySpace page or, if you have lots of digital photographs you want to share with family and friends, ask them to help you set up a Flickr or Webshots gallery. Encourage them to teach you how to do things with the computer.

Naturally, there are important things every parent should do for Internet safety. The most important of these is to have the family computer in a public setting where you can always glance over the child’s shoulder. Every parent also needs to learn about safe family computing. There are many useful websites where you can obtain this information, such as

The most important thing a parent should do, whether their kids use the computer or not, is to try to maintain open lines of communications. And if you want to be technologically sophisticated, be sure to text your child an occasional message that you love them - and be sure to tell them in person and with a hug. They will not always be small.

The following is a partial reprint of the Knightro Report from The Midwest Farm and Livestock Directory at by Ken Knight. Also, read his story about County Fairs - The Role of 4-H.

County Fairs –
The Litmus Test

The Fair is a wonderful place to educate and showcase the pride of our efforts. But all too often the message is missed.

County fairs have served as a showcase for agriculture for many years. But, more importantly, they have been a window of opportunity for a real educational experience. The 4-H kids especially could gain a great deal of knowledge and experience, unlike those from other events that take place in their formative years.

I especially enjoy working with the 4-H youth, as this impacted my life in such a powerful way, back when I was a youngster growing up on a farm in Western North Dakota. My involvement in 4-H truly became my focus in life; so much so, I can really feel the emotions of these kids and relate to most every situation they face. This is always driven home and reinforced when I speak to 4-H and FFA livestock groups. They not only remind me of how far we have missed the "mark" in terms of defining the objective of raising livestock, but there is a real need for judges who can teach and relate to youngsters in a very meaningful manner. A child should not leave the show ring with only the options of either joy or disappointment. They need to leave with a sense of accomplishment and pride, a learning experience, and the enjoyment of the "highs" of a new found level of self-worth and confidence.

The walk to the show ring and the "parade of champions" is for the intended purpose of showcasing what it takes to produce red meat. However, we fail if we do not challenge the outcome on the rail.

What has to be done to fix it? First, we acknowledge there are differences- differences brought about by selection and feeding. An explanation of good, sound feeding practices and a demonstration of selection factors would be good for starters. You then begin to group the entries in accordance to the explanation and demonstration you have just given.

In reality, you have just conducted a mini evaluation clinic, so the kids know and understand what is happening. Your job as a judge is to educate these youngsters- not simply stand out there in the middle of the ring, as though you were a god who could see right through these animals. You have a pretty good idea what is under the hide or else you wouldn’t be judging. But, it’s not a science, and there’s no real proof until the carcass is hanging on the rail and the cutability and quality are evaluated.

Thank you, Ken, for the use of this article and to those of you reading, please go to the website, and read it in its entirety. I agree the kids should always have a positive experience and they are WINNERS for just going in the ring. I think we as adults are the ones who make it a win or lose situation. So, make sure you are a POSITIVE role model and always be positive at these competitions. Remember, like I always tell my kids, it is one person’s opinion on a given day. No more or no less!                          

Until next time, God Bless!

James Shropshire is the Alabama 4-H Regional Extension Agent for the Central Alabama Region. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..