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Yesterday kicked of the start of the 4H Livestock shows for our family this year. Both my kids have been involved with 4H since the age of 5, when they were eligible to become "4H Clovers". They started exhibiting bunnies and as they got older, switched to other animals. My son shows pigs and my daughter shows pigs and sheep. They both belong to the "Farm to Market Livestock Club" which is the name of one of the many 4H clubs in our county.

My daughter showing her "spot" breed hog at yesterday's 4H livestock show.

What the kids learn from their 4H animal project is invaluable. They learn all aspects of animal science from nutrition to husbandry to health to genetics. They also learn financial management because they have to keep track of all their expenses and all their income from fair prizes and auction sales in order to complete their 4H recordbook at the end of the year. Most importantly, it teaches them responsibility. The animals are THEIRS. They must take care of them on a daily basis. I may be a mean mom, but my kids lose their iPods and internet access if they do not get their chores done in the morning before school. Their animals are their primary responsbility and therefore come second only to school work.

4H'ers must be knowledgeable about their animals. Here the judge is asking about the various parts of the pig like "Which part does the bacon come from?" or "How much feed does your pig eat per day?" or "How much protein is in your pig's feed?"

In order to do well, their animals must have the proper rate of weight gain, maintain good health, and be trained and worked with. In the pictures above you see the judge in a blue striped shirt. My daughter who is showing must be able to handle the pig in the ring, keep the pig moving so that the judge can evaluate all aspects of the pig, follow proper showmanship techniques, and answer the judges questions about her animal in order to place well.

The lambs must be trained to walk the show ring and hold a show position that best exhibits their features such as length of body or musculature.

So by now, you may be wonder why I've not posted any pictures of my son from yesterdays' livestock show. That's because he wasn't there. In addition to being in a 4H livestock club, he is also in our county's 4H Marksmanship club. He had to choose between a livestock show and a rifle match yesterday.

He chose the rifle match!

If you are not familiar with 4H, then you need to check it out. 4H is not just cows and cooking. 4H is a youth development program, administered through USDA. Kids have "projects" that they choose and learn skills needed to complete that project along with leadership, public speaking and community service. There are all kinds of projects including cows and cooking but also rocketry, marksmanship, environmental science and a plethora of other projects youth can choose from. It is not just a rural youth program for farm kids but is also on military bases, after school programs, and urban areas as well. Call your local county extension office to find out about your local 4H programs. It is one of the best youth programs available for kids ages 5-18. 4H was a formative part of both mine and my husband's lives and we are thrilled that it is a legacy that we are passing onto our children.
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