April 2010
4-H Extension Corner

Livestock and Learning

Ah, spring is in the air in the great state of Alabama! That means we are deep in the heart of the 4-H year. Marion County is having its 4-H Pet Show. A Chicken-Que competition is being held in Lauderdale County. 4-H Club members from around the state will swarm the U. S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville for 4-H Space Day. St. Clair County will host its 4-H Quilt Show. And there will be hundreds of 4-H club members planting gardens and trees, engaging in acts of service, and learning about wildlife habitat, robotics, or the skills of fishing or theatrical improvisation.

For Chelsea Boyd of Cleburne County, there is a clear link between livestock and leadership. Chelsea served on the Alabama 4-H State Council and has had great success in showing swine.

We are also in the midst of our livestock show season. Since 4-H is the youth outreach program of the Land Grant Universities and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we are deeply committed to the USDA’s vision "to lead a rapidly evolving food and agriculture system." Many of our future food scientists, agri-business leaders and agronomists will have had their roots in today’s 4-H.
Raising livestock is one of our proudest 4-H traditions. It was established in the early days of 4-H, when the success of young people’s corn, tomato or livestock projects helped determine how well Alabama’s rural farm families ate. Today, 4-H livestock programs are a tremendous tool for teaching the 4-H core values of Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery.

How does participation in a 4-H Livestock Program teach Belonging? Every livestock participant is a member of a 4-H Club with a strong educational component. Livestock participants often belong to a community 4-H club, where club members take part in an array of 4-H projects and activities. Sometimes, they are members of a 4-H livestock club with a very specific focus. As you visit 4-H livestock shows, you also see participants who are members of a larger livestock-raising community, with older Extension staff, community volunteers and family members constantly "looking over their shoulders" with advice and support.


A great 4-H judge engages young people in growing and learning. Brandon Callis of Texas A & M University talks with Aniston Bolding of Chilton County about her choices in raising and showing beef.

Independence is another key aspect of the 4-H learning experience. Sometimes it can be challenging for parents and teachers to let go of our young people, but 4-H is based on "learning by doing." Raising livestock teaches the importance of personal responsibility and the most successful project is not necessarily the one where the young person wins the biggest prize. Our greatest success comes about when a young person learns to make wise choices and learns from his or her mistakes. Young people have lots of options in 4-H and in life, so it is crucial they develop a feeling of control over their own 4-H projects – and their futures.

It would be easy for some people to exclude the 4-H value of Generosity from livestock competition. It’s true, champion livestock often bring a significant price, but the true value of 4-H competition is in learning to play fair, to follow the rules, to work well with others, and to be honest and honorable. Personal generosity comes when an older youth guides a younger child or a farm family shares its enthusiasm for livestock with kids who have never had a chance to be around cows, horses or goats.

Tanner Jones of Tuscaloosa County with Black Betty at the 2009 Alabama State 4-H Show. Betty is a rescue horse. Tanner learned about caring for a sick horse and transforming her into a great and healthy animal.


The degree of Mastery which young people develop goes beyond their education about swine or sheep. Through 4-H Animal Science Projects, young people learn time management, focus, and to set and achieve goals. We believe 4-H Mastery is not something done to young people or even done for young people, but it is a process in which they are fully involved.

Are you enthusiastic about animal sciences – or photography – or gardening? Call your county Alabama Cooperative Extension Office and offer to share your enthusiasm with young people in 4-H. It will make you and your community a better place!

Notes: First, in Alabama, most shows are limited to 4-H or FFA members. The comments in this document relate to the potential exhibitor being a 4-H or FFA member. The next thing recommended is to attend a livestock or horse show, and truly watch the work and effort needed to make the exhibition of livestock/horses a worthwhile and rewarding experience for exhibitor and parent/guardian. Make friends with exhibitors and visit their show animal facilities on their farm/ranch.

The next issue to address is what the exhibitor learns from showing livestock or horses. The life skills learned as a result of any 4-H or FFA livestock/horse project are many and varied. High on the list is decision-making. One must realize the decisions of animal selection, feeding and care of the project animal, and dedication to the project can be paramount to the success in the showring. Other life skills developed as a result of animal projects are responsibility, animal care, management and knowledge, money and time management, as well as goal-setting and leadership skills.

Alabama has a multitude of opportunities to exhibit most species of animals. There is considerable variation within the various species, in terms of opportunities. The three major events are the Alabama National Fair, held annually in October; the Alabama Junior Livestock Expo, held annually in March in conjunction with the SLE rodeo and hosted by the Southeastern Livestock Expo; and State 4-H Horse Show, held annually in July. All three events are held in Montgomery. In addition, there are a number of county and "regional" state fairs, "jackpot" type shows and stand-alone shows held throughout the year.

Livestock shows have animal conformation classes where the judge evaluates form and function of the animal as it relates to the industry. Market animals are evaluated on their desirability of producing a high-quality, edible food product, i.e., meat. Breeding animals are evaluated as replacement animals for the breeding herd. Livestock shows often have a "showmanship" class where the exhibitor is evaluated by the judge on the ability to handle, manage and control the exhibited animal, as well as mannerisms and courtesies displayed in the showring.

Horse shows have conformation classes as well as performance classes, where the judge evaluates suitability of the ridden horse. Horse shows often have a "showmanship" class where the exhibitor (on-foot) is evaluated by the judge on the ability to handle, manage and control the exhibited horse, as well as mannerisms and courtesies displayed in the showring or arena. In "horsemanship," the mounted exhibitor is evaluated by the judge on the ability to handle, manage and control their mount.

Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.

Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent in Northeast Alabama. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..