Importance of Youth Livestock Shows

By Steve Niemeyer, Nebraska Extension Educator

With the summer season wrapping up in the Nebraska Extension offices a person can reflect on the accomplishments our 4-H and FFA youth have made this year. One activity that takes a lot of time is raising and exhibiting livestock for the local county fair, State Fair, and Aksarben in Nebraska. There are many positive outcomes for youth and helping youth with these activities.

Food and shelter are basic human needs; therefore those involved in agriculture are very important. With the average age of today’s rancher around 60, the question arises: where are the future agriculture producers? The purposes of these livestock projects are not only to expose youth to the livestock industry but also to develop important life skills. When a student has to care for land or animals or take on other agriculture responsibilities, they are going to be more accountable and engaged and have a better understanding of life than a young person who has not had similar experiences. The purposes of organizations like 4-H and FFA are to develop leadership, life skills, and citizenship for its membership.

A study conducted at Texas Tech University was aimed at validating the perceived benefits of competitive youth livestock exhibition. The study used the following methods: (1) a review of historical documents (2) in depth interviewing and (3) observations to analyze real life situations. From the data, themes were generated to validate the perceived benefits of livestock exhibition.

The results of the studies produced a number of surprises. The most common benefit that most people mention about livestock exhibition is the responsibility a young person gains from raising and showing an animal. However, responsibility was not the strongest theme to emerge in the study.

The following are the six themes generated from this study and are listed in order:

• Social relationships. The development of social relationships by showing livestock was the strongest theme to emerge throughout the data collection process. Participants in the study appeared to emphasize the importance of developing friends and social contacts. These friendships aid in the satisfaction of career goals as well as the simple need for companionship.
• Character was the second theme to emerge in the study. The subcategories associated with this theme are as follows: responsibility, confidence, sportsmanship, and how to deal with loss. Participants felt that character developed through exhibiting livestock promoted growth from a child to a successful adult.
• Family togetherness and family values gave a meaning to what is desired as a life skill. It was apparent that participants in this study put emphasis on the importance of the family participating in activities together.
• Exposure to Competition. The fourth theme in the study dealt with the competition that competitive livestock showing introduces to exhibitors. Two meanings developed from the theme of competition that stems from the phenomenon of participation in competitive events. One category resulted from the need to satisfy the desire of participation in competitive events. The other related to the exposure of winning and losing. This meaning was also apparent in the character theme.
• Exposure to cultures. The fifth theme generated was exposure to diverse cultures that comes about from exhibiting livestock. Participants revealed that exposure to cities and the diversity of people that accompany major stock shows aid in the development of life skills.
• Knowledge and care of animals. The last theme that emerged from the study was the knowledge and care of animals that exhibitors gain from showing livestock. Participants felt this knowledge was important, especially if it relates to a future career.

In conclusion, the most important life skill developed through the exhibition of livestock by 4-H and FFA youth was social relations. This contrasts earlier findings, which suggests that development of responsibility was the most important benefit of livestock exhibition. Because social relations are learned and aid in the development of a person, they are considered a life skill.

Participants in the study revealed that character development was a close second to social development as the most important benefit of competitive livestock exhibition. Responsibility was identified as being developed through the attention, time and care that animal project requires. Confidence was instilled in the exhibitors because they see that they can take care of an animal. Sportsmanship developed though livestock showing because it is a competitive event. Exposure to loss at an early age helps prepare youth for similar situations that will happen in life. The participants perceived these meanings as a builder of character, which is an essential life skill.