If you ask any farm kid to talk about a 4-H or FFA livestock project, he or she will more than likely tell a story or two. You might hear stories about a favorite animal or an experience with friends at a fair. Thousands of children go through these 4-H and FFA programs, raising, showing, and learning valuable life lessons through their livestock projects. Projects include cattle, sheep, horses and pigs. Different species of livestock provide different stories and lessons, but all in all, the lessons learned through livestock teach the same qualities: respect, responsibility and good business sense.
According to one Mizzou student, certain qualities in the cattle may have changed over the years, but the amount of work and fun has not.
“From waking up at pre-dawn hours, to halter breaking steers, it all was a good hard work out” said Leslie Day, a Mizzou freshman from Mt. Vernon, Ohio.
Day actively advocated for beef through her 4-H project when she was the Knox County Beef Queen. She was able to participate in different ambassador programs at the fair to help teach people about the agriculture industry. Day said that morals and attitude are a few components of learning, showing and growing livestock.
“How to treat other people, and good sportsmanship is really big especially when you are showing beef cattle because you’re really competitive against the other people,” Day said. “What is really important is being able to help out other people in need. When you don’t win, being humble is a big deal and not showing that you’re frustrated that you didn’t win. And above all little acts of kindness can go a long way.”
No matter the livestock species, one character trait taught in all projects is responsibility.
“For me, responsibility is what I learned, and you have to take actions not only for you but for your animals,” said Mizzou freshman, Storm Bugh.
Bugh grew-up around livestock, including beef cattle, chickens, rabbits, and sheep. He was a member of the County Liners 4-H Club and Knox County FFA and had a diversified livestock Supervised Agriculture Experience.
As an owner of several animals, including a herd of 75 show rabbits, Bugh knows the hard work of caring for several animals.
“I always go up before school to feed,” said Bugh. “With ownership of animals, you learn that through your own mistakes and hard work, you can either prosper or fail. It is truly up to you.”
Through Missouri 4-H and FFA, livestock projects are not restricted to cattle, swine, sheep, or small animals. In 4-H, horse projects make up a large percentage of projects.
“Horses, have been my life,” said Megan Graessle, who has been in the 4-H horse project for 10 years. “I’ve learned numerous life lessons through my horse project. I’ve had to balance school, training, riding, and working with my horses. I have to be responsible for not only me but my horses as well.”
Graessle grew up on a large beef cattle operation, and has had experience with cattle, horses, and raising Australian Shepherds. Graessle is an alum of the St. Thomas 4-H Club and Nichols Career Center FFA Chapter. Within 4-H and FFA she started her own horse business of buying, training and selling horses.
In FFA and 4-H livestock projects, entrepreneurship is another valuable lesson — members have to know how to budget, spend and save their money.
“Another big thing I learned from raising horses, is money management, livestock isn’t cheap, and I learned to budget at an early age as compared to if I wasn’t in 4-H and FFA,” Graessle said.
No matter the livestock species, the lessons learned in these projects are similar and will benefit participants for a lifetime.
“People need to have at least one livestock experience in their life, because the 4-H and FFA chapters become a second family to you and open a lot of doors for you in life,” Bugh said. “Livestock teaches you responsibility, self-determination and ownership … which could apply to your career or life in general. Living on a farm, it has taught me life throws you some curve balls, but after the balls been thrown you can either quit right there and walk away or swing again.”