lt’s time to start breaking that calf to lead and getting ready for your county fair. If you haven‘t handled him much up to this point, you’ll have your hands full. A  thousand pound steer on the end of a rope is a ght of power and will beyond that of most any young 4-H’er. But it’s just a small part of the trials and tribulations you'll face with a livestock 4-H project.

If you have taken your project seriously and have benefited from the leadership of your club, County Extension Agent, and associates of the livestock industry you’ll know the importance of what you’re getting into. Being drug across the ground, spitting mud and dirt, feeling the rope bum, and the bruises beginning to swell — will make you wonder if it is all worth it.

But this is just a small part of the frustrations you may feel before this project is complete. Just selecting the right animal and a feeding program that will have him t for just the exact date of the fair can be an overwhelming experience. Speaking of t, how about tting the animal where you are exposed to more risks and bruises, not just to yourself, but to the animal as well.

As the saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” This is where your 4-H livestock project may begin to defy logic, for there will be many who suffer even more heart break when they leave the show ring at the local county fair. Having done everything just right only to be dismissed from the arena with little more than a nod or a hand gesture from the ringmaster can be  demoralizing. This is where an explanation from the judge on a personal level needs to be addressed.

The 4-H project needs to be a learning experience, everything from genetics to the nal outcome on the rail. To have come through the project with little more to show for it than a few aches and pains is counter-productive to everything that 4-H stands for. At the end you should know what went wrong and what went right—and why.

The “whys” are what’s missing in most livestock judging experiences. Judges will usually give reasons for the placing they make, but often fail to address the individual issues; like that of taking the time to tell that child with tears in his/her eyes why they stood last in their class.

Livestock judges, for the most part, are competent individuals attempting to do the best possible job they know how to do. But sometimes, human judgment can become tainted with human error, as in the case of any subjective evaluation. This often leads to public criticism, justified or unjustified. But it doesn’t really matter, because perception soon becomes reality, tarnishing the efforts of both the judge and the contestant. This is perhaps why many judges are reluctant to express very definitive reasons.

This does not excuse them however, as every contestant has the right to leave the show ring knowing why their animal was evaluated for a particular designation or placement in the class. You may not always like the explanation you are given, however in the spirit of constructive evaluation you can learn from the experience.

As a 4-H leader or parent you need to instill the value of a child learning from their mistakes. In assisting the child, the selection process may have been awed, or the feeding program may have been inadequate, but to imply that the judge was at fault is like blaming the coach for your child’s performance. Be accountable for the nal outcome without laying blame at the doorstep of someone else.

4-H is intended to be a teaching and learning experience where the outcome is determined by improvement, not tricks of the trade. It all comes down to better communication, especially with the judge, but everyone involved in the process needs to be a contributor, not a Monday morning quarterback. This includes family members, 4-H leaders, fair officials, and the audience in general. Misunderstandings become compounded when everyone begins to draw their own uneducated/independent conclusions. Rightly or wrongly this becomes disruptive and contributes to the chaos and disappointment of many of the participants.

You begin to realize at the end of the day that the heartbreak becomes a bigger deal than the halter breaking. By now you’ve become attached to your animal, he has a name and a personality. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars and a lot of time preparing this animal for the big day—only to find out nobody loves him but you. The judge didn’t like him, everyone else was getting all the attention, and you’re feeling a little mad about the whole thing. Perhaps hurt is a more appropriate term, because by now this calf has become pretty special.

You’re asking yourself, what did I do wrong, or you‘re blaming everyone from dad to the judge. There is seldom any one thing that went wrong or anyone in particular that was at fault, so it all becomes very frustrating. This is where we, as adults need to pick up the ball and take responsibility for meeting the needs of that child. For a child to be left feeling like a failure, standing their at the end of the line can be devastating. With lead rope and show stick in hand, embarrassingly waiting for the presentation of a white ribbon, is as demoralizing as it gets. When put in those terms, who has failed? I think we all become accountable for the child is only doing what he is told.

Communications become more important than the product. If we can‘t communicate to the child the reasons for his/her position in the class, then we should‘t be putting ourselves in a position of leadership. The 4-H Club member should be a benefactor of our wisdom not a victim. There will always be a top and bottom end to any class, but the differences need not be so extreme. Feeling that you came close to winning is whole lot different from that of being totally out of contention. Leaving the arena with a white ribbon, knowing full well what you have to do to get to blue, or even to the head of the class, can be a positive experience.

Knowledge is the key to getting to the top of the class. Without knowledge and understanding of what you are doing, you can end up spending the same amount of time and money on a loser as you do a winner; sometimes even more, as those factors that determine value will favor the champion. Rate of gain, feed efficiency, grade, and cutability of the cattle in the front row will always outperform those in the back row. Thus it is obvious that it is more pro table to raise a champion than a loser.

But how often do we hear that I can’t compete because of lack of resources, (i.e., money, genetics, etc.) It costs more to do a poor job than it does to do a good job. This is a lesson that I don‘t want you to ever forget; for it has been an ageless excuse without merit.

Someone has to be teaching these kids how to select, feed, t, and show a champion. All the money in the world won’t make any difference. It’s not about money, politics, or anything else that you may have alluded to as an excuse in the past. lt’s about taking control of your own destiny that requires nothing more than making your own decisions. Obviously this is more difficult than it sounds, as you have to make the right decisions. This is a skill that comes with practice and experience.

You can’t buy your way into the winners circle, which means that every livestock 4-H’er is created equal. If you are up to the challenge and take your project seriously, there is absolutely no reason in the world that it couldn’t be you showing that next champion steer.

It‘s too late to change some of your decisions for this year, but it‘s never too early to get that calf broke to lead before he weighs over 1200 pounds and is out of control. And it’s exactly the right time to avoid some of the heartbreak by taking control and responsibility for your own 4-H project.

Knightro has contracted the professional services of Mr. Gunter Hess to assist the readers of the Knightro Report in obtaining access to any and all Knightro Livestock Marketing Services. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 970-290-3278.


From the Calf That Fought, Life Lessons Were Taught


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