4-H Animal Science Projects Teach Life Skills

Posted: September 30, 2014

4-H is the largest youth organization in the world! Anyone aged 8-18 may participate in Pennsylvania's 4-H animal programs, and the animal science projects are some of the oldest and greatest teaching tools we have to teach youth life skills.

One thing that distinguishes the 4-H and FFA programs from other youth organizations are animal projects and the ability to show animals. If you've heard that 4-H is only for farm families, think again! 4-H reaches youth in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

So what educational benefit does a 4-H member gain from their experience showing animals?

  • Sportsmanship – There is only one Grand Champion animal, but there are many winners in 4-H. Most 4-H’ers who show livestock will experience both the satisfaction that comes from exceptional effort, and the disappointment of a project that didn't turn out as well as they expected. Members learn both to be humble when they win and gracious when they do not achieve highest honors.
  • Responsibility – Feeding and daily chores in 4-H livestock projects teach responsibility. Those who excel are the ones who follow the time clock in their daily efforts. This is a good habit to start at a young age, and may reap substantial benefits in a career later in life. While watching kids at the fair or other shows, it doesn't take long to tell which ones have put time into taking care of their animals versus letting parents assume most of the responsibility. A favorite member quote is, “4-H is in the business of producing blue ribbon youth, not blue ribbon animals.”
  • Decision Making – Making decisions can be difficult, especially for children. Livestock projects require several key decisions be made: selection of project animals, selection of feeding method, care and management decisions, grooming, etc. Those with breeding livestock need to sometimes make the dreaded decision on when it’s time to sell an animal that is not performing well. The more experience youth have with decision making, the better prepared they will be to face other big life decisions.
  • Attention to Detail - Most young people take on major tasks, like feeding, in a 4-H livestock project. Many times however, it’s the little things such as keeping water tanks and feed troughs clean; working on grooming and showmanship for months before the show; keeping pens clean; and close observation for sickness and disease, that make a difference. Paying attention to details is beneficial in almost everything we do in life.
  • Pride and Sense of Accomplishment - The look on a youngster’s face after having been named the exhibitor of the Grand Champion animal is priceless. However, the expression of a youngster who has worked very diligently with his or her animal is often equally touching. The 4-H members are proud of their animals and do their best to care for them.

Over 75% of 4-H members in District 12 participate in an animal project. They also engage in many educational opportunities, where they learn ethics and proper care of their animals; for example, events like Dairy Day, Regional 4-H Horse Camp, State Dairy Cow Camp and livestock camps. In addition, they are involved in an annual Quality Animal Management training which focuses on three good production practices each year. This allows them to participate in the 4-H roundups held at their local fairs. Some exhibitors then progress on to district and even state shows.

Are 4-H livestock projects successful? You bet! These projects are a great way to teach our young people about life. Next time you are at a show, study the kids, instead of the animals. You’ll notice that most classes have several winners, not just the one standing in first place.