This year’s 4-H projects came to a close this week when the kids’ steers were sold at the local sale barn in Tama. This is not the first time through the production cycle for them, so there were no long good-byes. As Abby and Nick helped load the steers, we took time to save the ear tag that read “Spike” from one steer. Abby herded them out of the barn quietly, and as each one passed the gate Nick patted them one by one for the last time, and then he announced “That will be some good hamburger.” I guess I wouldn’t expect anything different from a farm kid who affectionately named his pigs Sausage, Ham, and Bacon the day they arrived back in March.
There’s many lessons learned each year with their livestock. Each year the knowledge gets a little deeper. Animal care and health, feed rations and nutrition, and of course learning more about exhibiting and showing. The character and responsibility they gain are tough to quantify but are more apparent each year. They can’t do it all by themselves, and they shouldn’t. Some people say 4-H showing is more for parents than kids, but just like school or sports kids need guidance, encouragement, and assistance to learn and become better. The family time and new friendships gained are invaluable as well. The idea of creating a network and resources to get help or exchange ideas will benefit them long after 4-H. There are very few activities that teach the life skills and about life itself like these projects.
Growing up on a livestock farm, the kids knew the reason for a market hog or steer was to provide food for people. As Abby puts it, “People have to eat and these will taste good”. So the kids learned to do the best possible way to raise their animals and market them to provide a safe wholesome food supply. There is also a special respect for life that cannot be learned any other way. On our way home from the sale barn, their attention turned back to plans and goals for next year. The kids are anxious for this year’s calves to be weaned and up for sale so they can start the cycle over for another year.
Nick’s gilt named “Bacon” found an unexpected home this year. She turned out well enough as Reserve Grand Champion to earn a spot in a local show pig producer's herd after the county fair. This has led to a lot of questions of the hows? and whats? about the entire livestock production cycle. Learning about the wonders of nature and people is a never ending cycle.