October is a busy time of year for 4H and FFA livestock exhibitors, as by this point most all exhibitors have or soon will have a project on feed. Within the Extension office we are busy with facilitating project validations, practice shows, and species clinics to prepare youth exhibitors for the county show in January. Youth livestock projects are a tool to teach life skills to youth that no other medium provides.

Livestock projects teach young people how to feed, care for and show their animals. However, their more important purpose is to encourage personal growth and development. Every decision made in producing project animals is related to one’s character. The six pillars of character; trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship; are reinforced daily through animal projects. The simple example of feeding and watering the animal daily reinforces several pillars of character. When young people take good care of their animals every day, even on difficult days when they have lots of homework or other activities, they are exercising their character muscles and learning how to be successful people. This is the underlying goal of youth livestock shows, to give youth the skills they need to become successful people.

It is also evident that programs like raising youth livestock projects that enforce the six pillars of character mentioned above are needed more and more in our society. After all, studies have shown 31% of middle school students have stolen something from a store at least once. That statistic increases to 47% in high school. Reports also show that 88% and 92% of middle school and high school students have lied to a parent at least once, respectively. Also, 54% of middle school students have cheated on at least one school test. By high school that number rises to 70%. The good news is that 73% of students have refused to cheat on a test at least once even though they knew others were cheating.

Youth do not automatically develop good moral character; therefore, conscientious efforts must be made to help young people develop the values and abilities necessary for moral decision making and conduct. This is why ethics are critically important to our youth livestock programs. However, like with other competitive events, sometimes unethical decisions are made that can adversely affect the benefit youth exhibitors gain from doing project work.

When these types of events occur we must consider all the impacts further action can have on the program and take the appropriate steps to properly rectify the situation. It is also important to recognize that complaining about an unethical decision can create a false impression that “everyone” is doing it, makes excuses for failure, and devalues winning. None of which are lessons we seek to teach youth any more than unethical decisions are acceptable.

For example, addressing a governing body with helpful and constructive alternatives to fix a problem is necessary and beneficial to the continued growth and development of a program. Remaining steadfast to your beliefs and using them to promote positive change is essential. Criticizing a program in a manner that devalues it to its participants, supporters, and the community at large serves no useful purpose.

Locally, approximately 1,200 youth annually benefit from exhibiting youth livestock projects by developing important life skills that will better equip them to serve future generations. Charitable giving and scholarship programs further serve these 1,200 youth beyond the show ring in their leadership and community service work and opportunities for continued education after high school graduation.