What kind of fun things did you do as a child? Did you bike? Run? Go swimming? I am sure all those activities were on your list. Still, for kids growing up in Oklahoma, another option is working with animals, planting and growing fruits and vegetables, and learning about agriculture. First, students begin learning about agriculture and all it entails in 4-H and then FFA. Both of these organizations have a deep and rich history in the farmlands across America. Both have helped the agriculture profession grow and flourish because children's experiences turn into lifelong passions!
What is 4-H?
4-H is one of the most prominent youth establishments in the United States. Each of the 4 "H's" stand for principles the members are taught; head, heart, hands, and health. This organization allows young people to experience and learn about various topics like animal care, farming, and healthy living skills. Kids experience 4‑H in every county in the nation through in-school and after-school programs, school and civic clubs, and 4‑H camps.
The 4-H organization was founded around 1902, so many families have deep roots within 4-H. Many children grow up looking forward to their time with 4-H. It is seen as a smart activity for rural children. They are allowed to do community service, learn new skills, and participate in healthy living challenges! All of the activities that 4-H prompts help children learn essential life skills.
What is FFA?
Another important youth organization within the agriculture community is FFA. Future Farmers of America (FFA) comprises three parts: classroom, career-based contests, and jobs. First, students learn about the large part of the agriculture industry. The group focuses on civic/personal responsibility, work ethic, contests, and hands-on activities that grow interest and skill levels. FFA is specifically for high school students and is run mainly by the students with a sponsor, usually the Vocational- agricultural teacher.
Showing livestock is a massive part of FFA. Students who otherwise may not have the opportunity to house, feed and care for an animal can have that experience within FFA. Students are taught discipline, responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment while caring for their animals. In FFA, students also participate in contests like public speaking, job interview skills, livestock judging, and farm business management. The entire organization is proud to churn out leaders in the agriculture industry. Not only those who work on farms and with livestock but in the business side of farming and agriculture.
What Do 4-H and FFA Have in Common?
In FFA and 4-H, many of the same things are similar and have lots in common. The 4-H is part of the cooperative extension service and is managed by local extension agents and volunteers. 4-H is not only about farming but takes in things like sewing, baking, and arts and crafts. The FFA is a fundamental part of the school's agricultural program. Each local program is led by an agricultural educator who works for the school. FFA members apply what they learn in the classroom in FFA activities through school activities.
Both programs instill skills that inner-city people might not identify as strictly agricultural. For instance, rural communities are, by definition, small, meaning that any successful home-grown farmer will be pressed into leadership roles in the community. So, ag education programs, like FFA, stress skills like public speaking. The development of leadership is an integral part of both FFA and 4-H.
A central part of both agriculture groups is livestock showing. A livestock show is an event where livestock is exhibited and judged on certain breed traits specified by their respective breed standard. Livestock that is commonly shown include pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. In addition, poultry such as chickens, geese, and ducks can also be shown as livestock. Livestock shows are hugely popular in rural areas, and the interest level is also growing in more urban places.
What Animals are Popular Among 4-H and FFA Members?
Students who participate actively in livestock showing have to care for their animals. School barns and ag farms are popular options for families who otherwise would not have the space or money to house a large animal. Students will tend to their animals before and after school, regardless of temperature or weather! While at the ag barn, students feed and work their animals. They practice with their animals behaving in the show ring. The animals also need grooming and working on handling in the ring. It is not for the faint of heart! Students who commit fall in love with it. They want to get better and work hard to be successful in the show ring.
One of the more popular animals to show is cattle. There are four beef projects to consider: Haltered market steers, Haltered breeding heifers, Commercial steers, and Commercial heifers. Of those, haltered show steers and heifers demand the most time, expense, and work. There are quite a few things involved with cattle care, feeding, and grooming. While cattle command the most extensive time commitment, they also have the most significant monetary return at the end of the sale.
Goats and lambs are also great options if you're not looking to show something as large as a steer or heifer. Goats and lambs are judged on their weight, length, and muscle volume. Therefore, they must be cared for and fed a specific diet to ensure they are a desirable size. Ensuring the goats and lambs are healthy is key to the overall success of the livestock show. Goats must also be trained for the show ring and be able to behave once they are judged.
Showing livestock necessitates hard work and perseverance but is gratifying in countless ways. Raising livestock teaches several life skills that cannot be learned anywhere else. As students get older, they will be thankful for their animals and the friendship that will last them far into their adult lives. 4-H and FFA both teach many valuable lessons to youth across America. Showing livestock is just one component of what both of their organizations do.