Members of 4-H learn life skills at the fair

Fair observation a 'powerful experience'

In about two weeks, the Moffat County Fair will officially begin. Even before that, 4-H'ers will be finishing up shooting sports and other general projects.

I've been involved in fairs for many, many years - as an exhibitor, Fair Board member, superintendent, mother of exhibitors and even a judge. So, I've always known what young people gain from completing 4-H and FFA projects. After all, I was a 4-H member, too.

But, this past weekend I had a chance to sit back and observe some terrific young people at work and to reflect on what I saw. It was a powerful experience for me, indeed.

This past weekend, my husband and I were at the Park County Fair in Fairplay to support our grandchildren, Kenny and Megan. They had already completed general projects and were getting ready for the steer show and sale. My time there was spent mostly in the livestock barn and the show arena.

While our grandchildren worked with their steers, I had lots of time to sit and observe the Park County exhibitors (all 4-H'ers) with their steers, lambs and swine.

I hear lots of complaints these days from parents who say their children are irresponsible about doing chores. Not these young people. During the fair, 4-H members, especially the older ones, are required to care for their animals without help from parents.

So, I watched as, without being told, 4-H'ers fed their animals, kept water containers filled up and free from hay and other debris, and kept fans running so the animals were comfortable.

It was apparent that these young exhibitors cared about the animals.

The young people kept their stalls free from waste, raked bedding chips back into the pens, and kept the alleyways clean. After they were finished with all that, some members went into the show arena and cleaned it up, too.

I watched as the exhibitors clipped, trimmed, washed and groomed their animals, getting them ready for show. They had been taught to groom the animals in a way that would show off the animals' good qualities (and perhaps minimize the not-so-desirable).

And except for some very young 4-H members, kids were doing all of this work themselves. It's pretty impressive to watch a 12-year-old trim a steer with a set of clippers.

There was the time element, too. Exhibitors had to keep track of a schedule, which included, among others, picture taking, show times and sale order, and they had to be responsible for being on time.

What I observed the night before the steer show was perhaps the most impressive of all. It showed not only responsibility, but also a determination to do their best.

It was 8:30 p.m. and everybody had to be up early the next morning to get ready for the show, but in the arena, empty of show activity, several 4-H'ers were practicing leading, stopping and setting up their steers. Over and over again, they practiced. Some 4-H members acted as judges.

Kids were helping kids.

Some adults were there, too, members of the Park County Livestock Committee. They offered advice about the showing process.

As John Logan, member of the Park County Fair Board, told me, "As long as there are kids to help, someone (a member of the Livestock Committee) will he there."

Even boxes of "cooling off" pizza couldn't drag the 4-Hers away from their practice. Finally, it was 9:15 p.m., and our grandchildren decided it was time to let the steers rest. But, as they left the arena, other youngsters entered. I don't think I have ever witnessed such determination.

Responsibility and determination to do their best are two things young people learn from their project work, but there's so much more. They learn to make decisions, such as choosing the animal and feed that will produce a quality meat product. (Some young people feed animals that come from their own breeding herds.)

The 4-H'ers learn about management and healthy meat practices. They learn how to keep their animals healthy. There's record-keeping, too.

During show competition, judges ask exhibitors questions about their animals: "What percentage of your animal's feed was protein? What would you change about your animal if you could? What is the expected meat yield from your animal (beef, lamb or swine)?"

The answers to these questions are included in the judging, and kids are expected to know.

Marketing a product is a skill we all need to learn. Before the fair, kids were out talking to businesses, inviting them to the Junior Livestock Sale. The young people hoped to make enough money to break even with their costs, and perhaps have some "seed money" left over. (Hopefully, there would be enough to put some aside for college.)

And comradeship? You bet!

When our granddaughter suddenly became ill the morning after the sale, young people and adults told our family not to worry. They would take care of everything. That included loading the steers on a truck and gathering up the show boxes and other supplies. Our grandchildren would have done the same for others.

Hats off to all of the people connected to the Park County Fair.

And when you visit the Moffat County Fair in two weeks, find a quiet place to sit awhile, during "off show hours," perhaps on a show box that's under a fan, and observe, as I did.

You may be surprised at what you see and hear.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2009. All rights reserved.

Diane Prather can be reached by calling 824-8809 or by writing to her at P.O. Box 415, Craig 81626.

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