4-H and FFA Projects teach responsibility and hard work
When talking to kids about their 4H projects, it's easy to see that it's a family affair. They start in third grade, progressing each year with skills that are learned. Parents like the idea of getting their children involved with a group that teaches responsibility and hard work. These are the stories of kids that love working with animals and reaping the rewards.
The Moon Family
Hunter Moon is 12 years old and has been showing rabbits for 3 years. His parents are Alan and Christie Moon from Beckville. Hunter gets up at 6:30 every morning, goes to the rabbit pens that are in his back yard and makes sure that his animals are fed. He has over 25 rabbits that are mostly the Californian or Mini Rex breed, and he shows them year round. When he gets home from school each day, its back to the pens to work with the rabbits, making sure all are healthy, and sometimes pulling them out to work with their fur, straightening it out, making sure it lays down correctly. He explains, "At the county show you have a meat pen which is three rabbits. They will weigh five pounds and are about 70 days old. You want all of them to match—the same weight and the same height. Judges look at the loin of the rabbits which is the area on their back. It should start right behind their ears and have a good rise. They are also judged on their color and their fur."
Hunter's father, Alan, says that showing rabbits is a full time deal for their family. "Hunter really enjoys showing rabbits, and he's made a lot of friends along the way. We go to the larger shows in Ft. Worth, Houston, Baton Rouge, and Oklahoma City. He's a member of the Texas Rabbit Breeder's Association, and he receives points each time he places at a show. He's been 6th in the state before and was in the top 20 in the nation a year ago in his age group. It doesn't really mean anything except that you can be proud of what you've accomplished. We get to spend a lot of quality time together doing something we enjoy. I'm hoping that more kids in the county will get involved with showing rabbits--only six have signed up this year. A lot of kids don't have room for a larger project animal—with rabbits you just need a small area, and it's easier for the kids to work with a smaller animal. "
The Thornton Family
Four kids in the family, three girls, one boy--all have competed with 4-H projects since the 3rd grade. The animal of choice--pigs! Mark and Anna Thornton, along with their four children, Alyssa, Luke, Caitlyn, and Jaymee live in Gary and have been in the pig raising business for ten years. When November rolls around, the work begins. The ten-week old pigs are fed as much as they'll eat every day to try to attain the maximum weight of 270 pounds by show time. One important aspect of working with a pig is walking it every day in order to build muscle and to make sure it will handle properly when in the ring. "Before you take your pig to show, you have to bathe it, then shave it. In Gary, we call it 'pig week.' Our ag teacher, Mr. Boone, pulls kids out of class on Monday and Tuesday to get the pigs ready, then on Wednesday we take them to the Expo hall for the weigh in. I've always placed in the top two of Showmanship," tells Caitlyn. Youngest daughter, Jaymee, who is in fourth grade, works with Tracy Stutes, 4-H leader for the Gary area. "When we have our meetings, she shows us how to use the quirt to work our pigs to get them to go in the right direction. It's kind of scary sometimes being in the ring with all those other pigs. I've gotten knocked down before." The oldest, Alyssa, now in college, was awarded a $16,000 Go Texan Scholarship her senior year. She received this award because of high test scores, plus hard work and dedication through the 4H and FFA programs for ten years.
Parents Mark and Anna comment, "We're not in this to make money, or to even make a profit. It's for the kids to learn a little responsibility and how to take care of an animal. It's a good learning experience and something we can all do together as a family."
The Morris Family
Carroll and Lacy Morris live in Beckville and have three children, Hunter, 17, Cassidy, 13, and Cooper, 11. In eighth grade Hunter decided she was tired of playing sports, so Carroll and Lacy began looking for something else to keep her busy. That's when they made the decision to start the livestock show circuit. For four years, the Morris children have been traveling to various shows in Houston, Ft. Worth, San Antonio and Tyler, showing goats and/or steers and heifers. They also compete in the local Panola County show.
Hunter points out, "It's a lot of work getting the animals ready for a show, getting up every morning to feed, and then doing it again every afternoon. We help each other out, though. If I'm not at home one day, the other two will feed for me, then I'll repay the favor the next morning." Hunter and Cooper both show a steer and a heifer, while Cassidy shows a steer and a goat. A lot of preparation goes into getting the animals ready. "Before we go to a show, we have to give all the animals a haircut—we shave the goat and the steers, but just clip the heifers. On the morning of the show, we're up at 4:30 to wash our animals and get them groomed. There's more work to it than people think," says Cassidy. At one of the larger shows, Cooper recalls, "Once when I was brushing my steer, an entire family came up and wanted to take a picture of him. They had never seen a cow before. "
Carroll and Lacy point out that they all work together. "When it's time to work the cows, Cooper pens them with his horse, and the girls help with the ear tagging and tattoos. It's a family affair. We started buying registered Brangus so we can show our own livestock. It costs a lot of money, but it's worth it. All the money the kids make goes into their college accounts."