In the fall of 1980, my father took me to my first 4-H and FFA livestock show. The show was held locally at the NW Georgia Livestock Pavilion.
Ironically, I believe that show was sponsored by AgGeorgia Farm Credit. I say ironically because AgGeorgia Farm Credit sponsored our multi-species 4-H and FFA youth livestock show at the same facility this past December. Well over 100 youth participated in the event.
AgGeorgia Farm Credit has been a faithful sponsor of 4-H and FFA livestock shows in Gordon County for at least forty years. Today, I will share information on the current Gordon 4-H Livestock Exhibitor Program and the life skill development by youth/family participation.
Back in the 1980s when I exhibited livestock for Gordon 4-H, youth mainly showed cattle. Annually, Gordon 4-H’ers would show 20-30 market steers and then a good number of heifers.
The market lamb project at this time was in the infant stage in Georgia. The lamb project in the early years would have maybe 100 lambs at the state show, but quickly grew to well over 1000 lambs at the state show in Gwinnett County at the height of the program. Now, we have more variety in our current Gordon 4-H livestock exhibitor program. Currently, we have 4-H’ers that show steers, heifers, market lambs, breeding ewes, meat goats, breeding does, market hogs and breeding gilts. We have approximately 30 4-H’ers that showed 120 head of livestock in 2021 at local, state and even national shows.
This makes Gordon 4-H one of the largest show teams in the state. All of the major state livestock shows are held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. So, what is the big deal with showing livestock? What is the importance of the livestock exhibitor programs?
For starters, the life skill development for youth that participate in the 4-H livestock exhibitor programs can be unmatched. I would like to discuss life skill development in more detail in this article. My siblings and I grew up five miles from the Gordon County Extension Office.
We raised and showed steers, heifers and market lambs. Ironically, my grandfather, A.D. Bowman had a farrow to finish swine operation where we would have approximately 1,000 hogs on the family farm constantly and none of us ever showed a market hog. The first life skill I would like to discuss is responsibility. When you are young, it is easy to always look out for #1. The person’s needs and wants can come first.
When you raise animals in a 4-H project, you learn very quickly that the show animals are dependent on you for proper nutrition, housing, exercise and health care. It may mean being in the barn prior to going to school and being in the barn after the sun goes down in the evening. You learn to prioritize and many times, it means taking care of the animals first before you have your own meal.
I will group the life skills of time and money management together. I was very activity in sports at the same time I was showing livestock through 4-H. I had to manage the hours in the day wisely to get practice complete while also washing, brushing and training the show stock. I will admit that showing livestock is not a cheap project financially. You have to budget for purchase of show animals, show supplies, feed, show entry fees and even travel. Showing livestock can teach you the value of the dollar.
These two life skills can come in handy when you go into adulthood and have to balance a job, family and a checkbook. The skill of decision making can also be enhanced by being apart of the 4-H livestock exhibitor program.
Some of the best memories of my showing days are not the actual showing experiences, but the time spent evaluating livestock when it was time to pick out the next show string for the upcoming show season. We spent many hours and miles on the road plus time at show animal auctions looking for those top picks for the next season. You also learn the skill of teamwork by showing livestock.
The teamwork here may be a little different than what most would think. My daughters have always played basketball. They work as a group of five teammates on the floor together playing defense and transitioning to offense.
The team I am talking about in the showing scenario is the exhibitor and the animal. It takes months of training at home for the exhibitor and the animal to work as a team in the show ring. The months of training can come in handy for showmanship competitions. Finally, you learn good sportsmanship in the livestock exhibitor program.
Some days you will earn the blue ribbon and some days you will not. You learn to be a gracious winner and also to be supportive of others when the show did not turn out like you planned.