Barn Chatter

4-H Livestock Policies and Procedures: Focus on the Process, Not the Prize

Author: Aaron Fisher | Editor: Arin Weidner​
Published: June 2, 2017

The vast majority of 4-H animal science project policies and procedures are associated with showing. It is important to note that not all youth involved in the 4-H animal projects show animals. Although showing is an important part of the learning process, it cannot be the focus. The focus of 4-H animal science projects must be on the education of the 4-H member. Showing is just one element of the educational process.

4-H Livestock policies and procedures are designed to frame a 4-H livestock experience. They set the parameters for the learning process and ensure that we focus on education. The county fair and state fair are places where 4-H members can demonstrate what they have learned through their experience with the animal projects. Think of an animal project as the culmination of a learning experience.

I frequently hear parents say, “We don’t have to do this for other shows, why do you make it harder on us than those other shows?” It is important to remember that the county fair and state fair are different from other shows. Fairs are not strictly a show where an animal is exhibited; they are showcases of the 4-H livestock experience. The rules are not meant to make it harder on you, they are meant to frame the project as a learning experience for 4-H youth.

I also hear all the time that 4-H is against competition, that we want to give everyone a green ribbon. That is not true. If we are serious about teaching life skills – and I believe that we are – then we cannot teach life skills without competition. Life equals competition, so to prepare youth for life, they must know how to handle success and failure. 

Yet, the focus of the competition must be on the process, not the prize.​ 

Winning grand champion should not be a participant’s ultimate goal. Instead, participants should focus on growing throughout the learning process. Livestock is just one of the tools 4-H uses in the learning process.

I want to highlight five common ownership and exhibition 4-H livestock policies. These policies specifically relate to the Indiana State Fair. Frequently, county fairs adapt these rules to meet the needs of their individual counties, so these rules may be different for your county fair. You should contact your Purdue Extension county office for specific county fair policies.

The first policy is ownership deadlines. Ownership deadlines set the parameters for the program year. These deadlines teach youth to meet deadlines and pay attention to details. The deadlines also ensure that youth have appropriate time to learn with their animals. Remember, this is not just a show; a 4-H project is about the learning that occurs between the ownership deadline and the fair.

The second policy is animal ID requirements. Animal ID requirements teach youth that they are a part of a larger livestock industry in which individual animal identification and traceability are very important. A common misconception of many 4-H families is they are not livestock producers — they think of themselves as just livestock showers who treat livestock exhibitions like a sport. It is important to remember that if you have animals, then the general public considers you a livestock producer. Your actions, good and bad, can significantly affect public perceptions about animal agriculture. Animal ID requirements also provide proof that a given animal is a specific 4-H member’s project animal.

The third policy is the exhibition policy. Remember, the goal of 4-H livestock projects is to educate the 4-H member, not to ensure that an animal is shown. The exhibition policy is about the 4-H member, not the animal. If someone else shows a 4-H member’s project animal, then it ceases to be his or her project animal. The substitute showman policy is very similar to the exhibition policy. The goal is for the 4-H member to showcase what they have learned, not just to have the animal shown.

Finally, the state fair grooming rule helps to support the 4-H member’s education. If someone else does the work, what is the 4-H member learning? Youth need access to qualified people to assist them and who will make the education of the 4-H member a priority. This includes family, other 4-H members, 4-H leaders, and other livestock leaders. These people are valuable in facilitating and guiding the learning of youth in their animal projects. 

The livestock industry receives significant negative publicity because of animals from youth livestock programs, so I want to conclude this article with a challenge: Will you take your responsibility to follow the 4-H policies and procedures to ensure that 4-H youth are learning to ethically raise and exhibit their animals?

You can help change this perception. Will you be part of the solution?​​

​​Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension​. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension​. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.

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