Shaping our future |

Shaping our future

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, m. arg.
Staff Reporter
Austin Huwa of Sidwell, Colo., sells his third place crossbred steer at the sale at NWSS.

Buy Photo

Across the country, there are thousands of junior organizations. Nearly every livestock breed or registry has one, communities have them and schools offer them. For the agricultural industry, there are a few key organizations for youth, but with hundreds of other ones available as well.

The two main agricultural youth organizations are 4-H and FFA. These two agricultural organizations offer students a chance to learn and improve their leadership skills, while growing as a person.

4-H is for youngsters as young as 8 up to emerging adults at 18. According to the 4-H website, “4-H prepares young people to step up to the challenges in their community and the world. Using research-based programming around positive youth development, 4-H youth get the hands-on real world experience they need to become leaders.”

“Through America’s 109 land-grant universities and its Cooperative Extension System, 4-H reaches every corner of our nation – from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities. With a network of more than 6 million youth, 540,000 volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 60 million alumni, 4-H helps shape youth to move our country and the world forward in ways that no other youth organization can,” it continued.

Any state with a land-grant university will have extension offices, and these are what the 4-H programs are run through. The program in Colorado is run through Colorado State University.

4-H members can have a wide variety of projects, including livestock. “Of course basic husbandry is taught, but beyond that you find self-discipline, a strong work ethic in caring for animals, a certain level of critical thinking and observation skills. There has to be certain level of patience developed in working with animals and probably the true value is the inclusion of the family interaction, because it takes a family to raise 4-H stock. In addition, they learn that the animal industry is more than being a veterinarian and hopefully we introduce them to other areas of the industry, like nutrition, anatomy and reproduction,” said Dr. Brett Kirch, Extension 4-H Youth Livestock Specialist.

Community members are usually the leaders for the different chapters, and most chapters have officers from their membership. 4-H also has a national conference every year, and the National 4-H Center is in Washington, D.C.

“4-H is directed at developing tomorrow’s leaders. While the ribbons and the grand champions get the press, in the end most of us that are graduates of a 4-H program will tell you we learned more about who we are and who we could be. I have a PhD and a DVM, and I can tell you for sure that I would not be where I am today without the 4-H program and for the staff of my county extension service, who encouraged me when many in my school did not,” said Kirch.

She continued, “4-H is important in so many ways. The most important thing to remember is that we are attempting to develop the youth, not necessarily to make the best pig, goat, lamb, or cow. 4-H members tend to be better students in school, tend to develop a greater sense of confidence and tend to be involved as leaders.

4-H youth tend to be more connected to the community

and they tend to be more involved in charity and community service activities as well.”

For students who want to become involved in 4-H, the process is easy. “To become involved in 4-H contact your local extension service office and they will hook you up with local program and clubs,” said Kirch.

For more information on 4-H, please visit

FFA is an organization dedicated to high school freshman through students up to 21, as well as a Collegiate level. “The National FFA Organization (also known as Future Farmers of America) envisions a future in which all agricultural education students will discover their passion in life and build on that insight to chart the course for their educations, career and personal future,” according to the National FFA website. “FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”

The FFA allows students to have a SAE (supervised agricultural experience) project, in which students can explore livestock, crops, production and repair. The project is up to the student, and can be carried out throughout the time the student is in the organization.

These projects, which can include livestock projects, help teach students about different industries. “In Colorado Ag Education, it is our mission to prepare students for a career in agriculture at a local, state, national or even international level. To say that livestock production is an important industry in Colorado would be an understatement. By teaching students about livestock through classroom instruction and exploratory learning, we are giving them the opportunity to gain skills that may be able to immediately apply to a career in the future. In addition, we are providing them the necessary information to become educated consumers and agriculture advocates,” said Kaity Gaines, Mentor Program Coordinator for Agricultural Education at Colorado State University.

She continued, “The opportunity to raise livestock can provide both academic and life lessons to a student. For example, from simply feeding an animal they use math skills in feed rations, biology skills in anatomy and physiology and nutrition skills in feed components and additives. This allows them to take the knowledge they gain in the classroom (both agriculture and core classes) and apply it directly to real world situations. In addition, they are learning essential skills such as responsibility, time management, and personal finances.”

FFA offers more than just livestock skills, however. “Participation in the FFA allows students to become involved in an organization that will benefit them both in present and future years. FFA members gain both practical knowledge about agriculture and work force skills that will prepare them for their future endeavors. There is something in FFA for every student out there ranging from Livestock Evaluation to Parliamentary Procedure. FFA is so versatile that every student can find a home in their local agriculture program and reap the benefits of FFA membership,” said Kellie Enns, Assistant Professor in Agricultural Education at CSU.

Members have the opportunity to compete in different competitions at many levels, starting at state convention. Events are held throughout convention along with the competitions. Those students who excel at the state level are given the chance to compete at National Convention. The National Convention is held in the fall of every year, and chapters from across the country meet up to compete and socialize.

The FFA offers personal advancement through a degree program. The Greenhand Degree is earned by members who complete their first year. The next degree is the Chapter Degree, followed by the State Degree, and finally the American Degree. The degrees get progressively more challenging to attain, and less than one-half of one percent of all members receive the American Degree.

Leadership is offered through the FFA in several levels as well. Students can be a chapter, district, state or national officer. Officers are responsible for running meetings, fundraising, promoting the FFA and leading their area.

Getting involved with FFA is easy to do if the student’s high school has ag classes. “To be a member and participate a young person has to attend a school that offers Agricultural Education in their high school or junior high. Adults can serve in supportive roles through Ag Ed booster clubs, Alumni groups, and by offering to assist a local instructor. If a person is unsure if they have an FFA Chapter near them, the best course of action is to contact their local high school and ask if the school has a agricultural education program and FFA Chapter.,” said Don Thorn, Executive Director, Colorado FFA Foundation.

For more information on Colorado FFA, please visit

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User