It has been a difficult month in rural America. The rain is relentless. Levies are breaking. What crops were planted are washing away. We're all tired and hoping for a break in the weather.
Farming is filled with opportunities for life lessons, but that's nothing new to farm families. We have lessons for breakfast! Let's review some important lessons for this show season.
Be your best self
During fair season, 4-H members have an opportunity to showcase our practice of ethical and humane treatment of animals and demonstrate our commitment to safe food production practices. Many people attending a local fair will have no idea how livestock is raised. Your actions may be their only exposure to animal agriculture. Be the good example.
Make good choices
It's almost silly to write these down, because I know every 4-H member is already doing them. However, in the hustle of a 4-H show, remember these stewardship practices:
- Provide fresh, clean water to animals at all times, and feed animals on schedule.
- Keep your pens clean and dry with good bedding at all times.
- Take extra care on days of extreme weather or activity.
- Sort and load animals safely. Yes, even the ones which go the wrong way, incite their friends to jump, and decide they're not moving … ever again. Patience.
- Handle animals in a humane way, just like we know you do on the farm. Avoid stressing the animal (and your brother and sister while you're at it).
- Adhere to all antibiotic, drug, and feed additive withdrawal times. Duh, it's the law.
- Keep animals clean; a clean animal is viewed as a healthy animal. Extra benefit, good clean fun on a hot day has been known to happen at the fair wash rack.
We know that show animals have a pretty good set up during the fair. Who doesn't like a fan on them in the heat! In addition, we know they're used to living in extreme weather conditions. However, just because we know it, doesn't mean the public understands.
Inform, don't confront
This is a hard one because we know you're passionate about your animals. And, you, like me, believe if we just give people enough information, they'll understand and believe as we believe. Much of the world will welcome the information you share, so be an informed advocate for animal agriculture. Explain nutritional needs. Discuss breeding practices. Demonstrate good stewardship. Answer questions.
In some extreme cases, people may not want to learn; they want to confront to gain media attention. It is best to walk away without engaging in these situations. They may try to upset you so they can video the incident and use excerpts from it to paint a negative picture of you, 4-H, and animal agriculture. Our first priority is the safety of our 4-H members.
If aggressively challenged:
- Remain calm, be polite, say, "I have a different point of view on this matter," and excuse yourself from the conversation. Do not argue or confront an individual or group who may have a different view about livestock production.
- If you feel threatened, walk away immediately, find an adult in authority, or call 911.
Following these recommendations will reflect a positive image of our livestock industry and the 4-H program, as well as demonstrate the solid animal stewardship practices that are our 4-H tradition.
On a personal note:
I wish you a safe, successful show season. We can't and won't win every show. How you react when you lose is just as important as how you win. How you conduct yourself in and out of the ring speaks to your character and training. Remember, all around the ring, young people are watching, wanting to be just like you when they grow up.
As I think of the lessons my children learned showing cattle, these were the most important:
- Your placing is one judge's opinion on one day. Accept it, and know that on a different day, with a different judge, it's likely to be different.
- Helping another exhibitor in the ring will likely make your animal perform better as well. It's always a win when you help others be successful.
- Don't let your self worth be determined by the color of your ribbon.
- There will always be those who stretch the rules. Don't let it be you. If you have to lie to win, your win means nothing.
- If you have a concern for a child's or animal's safety, speak up. If you don't like the judge's placement, keep it to yourself. You always have opportunity to suggest qualified judges prior to next year's show.
- Show ring finesse is not a substitute for hard work the months prior to a show. Put in the hours long before the show to enjoy the benefits show day.