Youth Animal Science Programs Develop Life Skills
Robert A. (Bob) Ebert
The primary objectives of youth animal science programs are to develop life skills and the knowledge base of Alabama youth while assisting them to become contributing members of society.
We, in the agriculture segment of Extension, have always assumed children are not, and do not have problems often associated with other segments of society. Wrong! We must recognize "problem-free does not necessarily mean fully prepared".
Youth animal science programs have many opportunities to develop leadership, communication, decision making and problem-solving skills. Character building, record keeping and the development of personal responsibility are other skills youths can develop as a result of their involvement in the broad range of programs in Animal Science. But maybe, the most important skill is goal setting.
There are tremendous opportunities for development of leadership in Alabama programs. Numerous opportunities exist in local and county 4-H clubs and in County Junior Cattlemen’s Associations. Opportunities exist at the statewide level in the Alabama Junior Cattlemen’s Association, as well as the various youth breed-affiliated associations. These leadership opportunities even exist at the national level, in youth breed-affiliated organizations.
Communication skills are practiced in speech contests at the local club level, with winners moving on to county and statewide competitions and in some cases, even onto regional and national competition. The Beef Ambassador Program funded by the Alabama Cattlewomen’s Association is an event involving communication skills development as well as learning about the beef industry. Another way to practice oral communication skills is by competing in the livestock (beef cattle, swine and sheep), horses, dairy cattle and meats judging contests and being asked to give oral reasons to defend the placing or ranking of the animals or animal products. In addition, there are other forms of communications development such as the Dairy Poster Contest and the "artistic expression" contest being held at the State 4-H Horse Show.
Character building comes with being able to handle winning and losing in the heat of competition. Accepting the bitter taste of defeat and being humble in victory are skills crucial in today’s society. Being gracious in winning and accepting the obligations and responsibilities that go with winning, are part of the honors that go to the victor. The winners must remember they are thrust in the light of being a role model. The personal responsibility of keeping accurate and honest records is part of the character-building process.
Being knowledgeable about agriculture and how it affects our environment is a segment of youth development that has been overlooked. Livestock shows do more than just reward the exhibitor for owning a champion animal are filling a void in expanding the knowledge base of the exhibitors. In 1997 the Alabama National Fair, Montgomery, recognized 19 Alabama youths with a Supreme Competitor Award. These youths excelled in knowledge about their animals and agriculture in general and excelled in the showing award-winning animals. The awards in beef and sheep categories were based on scores in a general agriculture, species-based, age-appropriate, multiple-choice exam, plus the placing in showmanship and placing of one market and one breeding animal.
The Dairy Show used the exam, showmanship and breeding animal’s placing, and a judging contest instead of a market animal to select their winners for the Supreme Competitor Award. The Alabama State Market Hog Show recognizes a Champion and exhibitor’s placing the judging contest, showmanship and the placing of two market hogs.
The discipline needed to keep and record correct and accurate records is one of the necessary ingredients to developing personal responsibility. The personal dedication needed for looking after and caring for an animal goes a long way in building character and responsibility. The daily care of an animal builds character better than any other responsibility that can be given to our youth.
Goal setting is probably not stressed enough in today’s society. Not everyone can show the Champion; not everyone can place first. Sometimes, the goal should be to compete for the experience, so the next time around, the goal can be set higher with a more realistic chance of attainment or accomplishment. Today’s society is focused on too much of "wanting it all, now," and not enough on setting realistic goals that take time to achieve.
There is little doubt youth animal science programs contribute much to the positive development of youths in Alabama. It is important for youths, whether they own and show animals or not, to understand the importance of goal-setting, decision-making and oral communications, for these are the life skills needed for the next millennium.