Rural and city youth increasingly interested in showing livestock, mandatory certification required
With anticipation mounting for the upcoming season of showing livestock in 4-H or FFA, the number of kids interested in showing animals has increased, and there’s been a surge in enthusiasm from teens and younger children who live ‘in town;’ not just rural students participating in Nebraska Extension’s livestock program. Since every young person who shows livestock must be certified in the ‘Youth for the Quality Care of Animals’ (YQCA) training, many counties in Nebraska are offering these 4-H livestock programs now through May.
The topics rotate each year, and this year Nebraska Extension is focusing on animal well-being, food safety and life skills, which is set up by YQCA’s national governing board.
“A quality assurance training has always been required. YQCA, which launched in March 2017, is the current training for participation in livestock projects. We’ve always had someone from Nebraska on the YQCA board of directors,” said Ashley Benes, statewide 4-H youth development coordinator and YQCA state contact.
The training takes the ownership to a different level, as children take on the role of a livestock producer and learn about the food they’re producing and what consumers purchase.
“The more we can educate young people and have them be a part of that whole food system, and what that means for consumers is important; especially for them to tell their story. We talk about: why did you decide to get involved in this livestock program, what life skills are you gaining, and what does it mean to you that your animal is part of the food system,” said Rhonda Herrick, Nebraska extension educator for 4-H youth development in Kearney and Franklin counties.
They also teach what to tell people, when they don’t understand what it means to be a livestock producer.
The training is required every year to show any animals.
“I know that I wasn’t initially excited to do it again, but it’s a great program. Overall, I think doing this really helps kids understand the industry and it’s not the same every year, so it’s not so repetitive,” said Sophia Lentfer, education director for Nebraska Pork Producers Association.
Lola Loschen, a junior in high school and 4-H’er in Franklin, Neb., has been showing her family’s registered Angus cattle since she was 10 years old.
“I get to be around my favorite climate — animals — and it gives me an experience I can use for the rest of my life. We have a registered Angus herd, and having been raised around a ranch all my life, it’s something I’m very comfortable with,” Loschen said. “I do the training every year — they require that,” she added.
Loschen said the training especially helps during fair time and in life in general.
Lola’s parents Kasey and Jen Loschen value the 4-H livestock training for the life skills it teaches, as well as teaching kids how to deal with cattle on a daily basis, working with people, and the relationship with their veterinarian.
“It’s extremely important; for kids involved in agriculture every day or even kids who aren’t. You need to know basic health and care. The Bible tells us God put us over the beasts of the field, and we need to take that to the extreme and care for the cattle that God has given us,” said Lola’s father Kasey Loschen, a first generation registered Angus rancher, adding, “Rhonda tries to keep the training new and fresh each year and keep kids on the edge of their seat, so they don’t get lax. It’s an amazing thing she’s doing; leading the 4-H’ers and it’s good for the kids who bring animals to the fair deal to learn about everyday life.”
Having just finished calving, the Loschens are focused now on helping Lola and two of her sisters; Olivia and Lena make breeding decisions for their artificial insemination project. The three daughters are the most involved in the family’s Angus herd, of the Loschen’s seven children.
RAISING QUALITY FOOD
A Nebraska cattle specialist praised the youth livestock program, saying it’s relevant for young people getting immersed in agriculture.
“I think it’s really important especially for the youth who need to know it’s more than just about ribbons, they need to know that everything they do with the animal eventually affects the quality of the food,” said Melody Benjamin, rancher and vice president of policy engagement at Nebraska Cattlemen. She said it’s mostly driven by the pork and beef industries in each state; and their intention to get youth started out right. “I think it’s important for everybody to participate so they can take care of that animal the best they can.”
Trending now in 4-H and FFA is intensified interest from many “city kids.”
“I have plenty of kids who live in town and are getting involved in FFA. I have a few middle school students who are excited for livestock judging, and other kids who are excited in general for FFA because there are a large variety of activities to get involved in,” said Hunter Hill, FFA adviser and ag educator at Franklin Public Schools in Franklin, Neb. For the kids who live in town and are eager to show a cow, pig or other livestock, they partner with someone who provides a place for the livestock, sometimes it’s a friend, or a leader’s house, or another 4-H member’s farm. Hill has 40 students in FFA; half are in high school, half in middle school.
The youth training also focuses on medicine, learning about animal health products and understanding labels. There’s a session on bio-security, which emphasizes putting certain practices in-place to make sure diseases are avoided within each operation.
The children also learn the importance of record-keeping; to know whether they gave a vaccination, medication, whether their animal isn’t feeling well, when it was treated and what product was used. All of this is to ensure a safe food product and teach what that means.
“We are raising a great quality product and our food supply in the U.S. is the safest in the world. That has brought that much more to the forefront for these kids, who are learning a lot more these days,” Herrick said.
They encourage the kids to set goals and encourage them to advocate for the industry that they’re a part of.
Kids can either take the training; in-person or online. Some counties offer both through April and May.
For more information: contact a local Nebraska Extension office.
To register, go to YQCAprogram.org.