Kids learn the value of hard work and responsibility
While most of us are nestled in our homes during the dead of winter trying to stay warm, local 4-H and FFA students are outside taking care of animals and preparing for the upcoming livestock show. According to Lee Dudley, County Extension Agent, over 250 entries have been registered for the Panola County Livestock Show and Sale. The event will be held on February 22-24, 2012, at the Panola County Expo Hall. In order to be eligible to show an animal, exhibitors must live in Panola County or attend a Panola County public school, private school or home school and be a member of 4-H or FFA, also within Panola County. They must be at least in the third grade and in good standing in their respective school with regards to attendance and grades.
The amount of time a student has to work with an animal depends on which type of project is chosen. If showing a steer, the animal is selected in early spring, soon after the February show is over. Dudley says, "With cattle, parents go out and pick their own because you're dealing with a lot more money and investment. The price of the animal usually starts at $1,500. When you figure in the cost of feed times the 300 days the kids have the animals, the investment reaches well over $2,500. We only have 10-12 kids that show steers because of the cost involved."
Dudley goes on to say, "I normally travel several thousand miles a year to pick up animals for the kids to show. This past year I went to San Antonio for pigs, then went to Oklahoma City two weeks later to pick up some animals that had come from Iowa and Illinois. I traveled to Brownwood and Dublin in one day, and then to Stephenville and back through Ellis County to get a load of goats. By November all the kids have their animals and are ready to begin work. We get chickens seven weeks before the show from the Tyson hatchery in Center. Each kid starts out with 25 birds, then they cull them down as they go through the feeding process. They will end up showing the best three. With rabbits, the kids buy meat pens of four and will show the best three. They start with the rabbits usually five weeks before the show."
Dudley encourages young kids that want to show an animal to start out with chickens or rabbits because they're easier to handle. Owning land is not a requirement when raising these types of animals. "They can set up a pen of rabbits in their garage or workshop. Sometimes it's hard to show a goat, because you have to brace them and work with them really hard, plus exercise them a lot. It's hard for the younger kids to get a goat to set up and drive. The rabbits are easier, and it teaches them responsibility and work ethics at an early age," says Dudley.
Another aspect of the livestock show is the Showmanship category. Judges look for kids who work best with their animals. They also look for animals that are healthy and have a good appearance. This is where the practice at home pays off. Judges can tell which kids work with their animals on a daily basis. Also, the proper attire for the ring is important—a collared shirt (tucked in!), a good pair of jeans with a belt, leather boots, and a nice show stick.
The sale on Friday is what every participant looks forward to. They want to see how much buyers will bid for their animal. The Grand Champion Steer usually brings $7,000, the Grand Champion pig usually brings $2,200, while the Grand Champion rabbit and chicken runs close to $1,200. Each project that wins a blue or red ribbon will sell. Dudley explains, "The only animal that does not sell is one that gets a white ribbon, but we have very few of those. The quality of the show is really good. Not all counties are able to sell everything. We sell close to 300 units, and the total sale is around $320,000."
When the sale is complete, the steers, lambs, goats and pigs are taken to Caddo Packing Company in Marshall where everything is slaughtered. Sometimes a buyer gives the animal back to the kids. This gives them the option to "floor" it, which means it will sell for the full market price. "We have somebody every year that is willing to buy every animal for a certain price per pound, depending on the species. It's a way for buyers to help more kids," adds Dudley.
The main thing that kids learn from having an animal project is responsibility. The animals depend on them for their food, water and care. There is no time off for weekends or holidays. The kids are held accountable for the health and well-being of their animals, and they are learning life-lessons along the way.