“I just can’t believe how much 4-H has changed as kids changed!” a 4-H alum from the 1950s told me this summer.
This particular student and his sisters mastered in projects like forestry and leadership in the 1950s, and he was amazed to witness 900 high school students gathered at Rock Eagle 4-H Center watching a performance of our statewide 4-H performing arts group, Clovers & Company.
Throughout the years, projects like tractors and electricity have been combined into wider project areas like the Science of Technology and Engineering. Next year, robotics will have its own category.
As the needs and interests of youth have changed throughout the last 112 years, so has Georgia 4-H.
With less than 3 percent of Georgia 4-H’ers living on farms today, you might think that livestock projects have disappeared as well but anyone who has been to the Georgia National Fair or county fairs like the one in Gwinnett County knows we still also have a strong livestock program.
Here in Newton County, 4-H’ers as young as first grade show lambs and goats through 4-H. Students in fourth grade and up may also show hogs and cattle. Starting in the ninth grade, public school students also have the opportunity to show with their FFA chapter.
We have four very active FFA chapters in the county, at Newton High, Alcovy High, Eastside High and the Newton College and Career Academy.
Each February we join together to host a local livestock show for most of our local showmen. Most of those showing goats and lambs finish in the fall at the Georgia National Fair. But in recent years I’ve heard a challenge again and again from our state 4-H leader: make livestock showing accessible to more youths.
When Arch Smith was a 4-H’er, he also competed in 4-H livestock shows. Smith lived on a farm, so I suppose he didn’t have to worry about homeowner’s associations or city zoning rules.
His family probably had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into with a hog project and already knew how to feed it and get proper medical care.
Today, most 4-H’ers who call us about showing livestock live in a suburban area and have no idea what really goes into the daily care of livestock.
Many of today’s show animals are bred and bought specifically for livestock shows; they aren’t animals straight off your family’s farm.
Our youths don’t have daily farm chores before and after school, so the idea that they’ll need to feed, exercise and practice with their animal multiple times a day comes as a big surprise.
Feed, veterinary care, transportation to shows and entry fees all add up to a very intimidating project.
But we know that livestock projects are still relevant and valuable.
Children learn knowledge and respect for their animal and agriculture. They develop initiative and self-reliance through their daily tasks. Showmen develop a sense of fair play and make friends from across the state at competitions. They experience the pride of ownership through the growth and care of a market animal.
Record books are still handwritten, requiring not only accurate records keeping skills but also penmanship. They must practice practical math and language skills.
It is science, math and language arts at work in the real world.
So here in Newton County, we’re trying something new this year. It won’t be without a few wrinkles, and we could use your expertise and support.
How do we bring these experiences to more local youths? We add chickens and rabbits!
If you have a first through 12th grade student in home, public or private school, we’d love to see you participate in our first local rabbit and chicken show.
Already own chickens? Great!
Don’t have a clue yet? That’s okay, too!
Record books and guidelines will be available at the 4-H office, so give us a call to find out how your child can participate and help us build a program.
If you or your organization would like to help guide and support this program, please also contact the office. It takes a village, and we’re counting on you!
Terri Fullerton is a County Extension Agent in 4-H Youth with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.