FFA Lifestyle Livestock

4-H and showing livestock from the other side of the ring

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Before I had a kid showing, I thought I knew what it was like. I fell in love with 4-H as a youth myself, and this passion led me to eventually become an extension agent in our county in New Mexico, and this year, to my place as a parent in 4-H. I’m not an extension agent anymore, and I’ve realized that man, are things different from this side of the ring.

Everyone in our county (including my daughter) has now sold their show animals, started shopping for new ones, and turned in record books for the year. This year, I found myself apologizing to many of our county friends and parents for dismissing their worries and stress over the years. Because showing livestock is stressful. Especially, when you’re doing it with your own kids.

Raising livestock isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes thick skin, grit, and patience (sometimes more than I think I have), so, in the spirit of learning as we go, here are some of the things I learned this year as a 4-H parent: 

Showing is a family affair; don’t let anybody tell you differently. 

Someone once told me that you only get nervous about something because it matters to you, and if it matters to you, it’s worth doing. For most parents, their kids matter to them more than anything, and when you’ve watched and helped your first-year showman with working their animals every day for months come rain, shine, heat, or while missing out on other fun, it becomes a family affair. 

But, relationships matter more than banners. Livestock projects teach responsibility and work ethic, but only if we, as parents, model it for them. And yes, that means not losing your cool on show day (note to self). 

Meme by Ranch House Designs

Show animals are different. 

Most of my experience has been in production livestock. I’ve always marveled at how much animal agriculture teaches us about life and death. But, show animals? They REALLY teach us these things:

I’ve helped raise bum lambs, and these things are fragile. But, show lambs? It’s true. They’re born looking for a place to die.

How about gains on show cattle? Our show steer grew, and he grew immensely fast. So fast, that he spent his last four months on a high-fiber diet, cut off from most of his show feed. He still topped his heavyweight class with a 150-pound spread. 

We’re not even going to get started with the time that I had to track our calf down in the dark at midnight when he broke out of the gate (it’s how I met our new neighbors).

Meme by Wmr Livestock

Or, the 1 million times that my 4-Her had her feet stepped on (thank goodness we didn’t have a kicker this year). 

And goats? I guess we can talk about the show goat this year that refused to eat ANYTHING. And, the months that everything smelled like bleach and fungicides after a bout of club fungus. 

Nothing can prepare a first-year 4-H parent for record book season.

As an agent, I was always encouraging kids and families to keep records as they go. After all, this is what we do in the production industry, and why should show animals be any different? Ha! What a notion… and also, parents, I apologize. It’s not that simple.

We kept track of our financials until August. Then, when school started, all bets were off. If anyone has the secret to completing these things before the day they’re due, please share some of your magic with us. 

Will we do it again? Absolutely!

I’m pretty sure that my daughter and I discussed the merits of raising show animals on at least a weekly basis. And leading up to county fair, we sure questioned whether we’d do it again.

In the end, the benefits of raising livestock are pretty similar on both sides of the ring. 4-Hers are over two times more likely to be physically active (how can they not be?). They’re more likely to go to college (I’ll let you know when we get there). And, they’re over three times more likely to contribute to their communities. 

Communities. That’s the part that really gets me. On both sides of the ring, I’ve met some of the most incredible people and families, folks that made it possible for my daughter to throw her hat into the ring. 4-H family really is the best kind of family.

Meme by Ranch House Designs

Don’t forget to enroll, so you can do it again!

Finally, here’s my PSA (as a former 4-H agent) for those show parents who I now know are immensely busy with picking out new calves, other extracurriculars, jobs, school and more. In many counties, it’s time to enroll! 



Heidi Crnkovic, is the Associate Editor for AGDAILY. She is a New Mexico native with deep-seated roots in the Southwest and a passion for all things agriculture

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