Delmarva Farmer Columnists
Just what are we teaching our kids? (May 21, 2013)
It is that time of year again and many 4-Hers and FFA members have been searching the country for that ideal feeder pig to take to the fair in hopes of getting a champion.
Having grown up in 4-H and currently being involved in several activities of the FFA, I feel that many of the core ideals of both organizations, find themselves at odds with some of the practices that I typically see in today’s modern livestock programs.
There has always been a disconnect between the commercial industry and the show ring.
Had the cattle industry followed the edicts of the show ring in the 1950s and ’60s, the entire industry would have been plagued by dwarf cattle.
Enough of them impacted the cattle industry anyway but it would have been much worse had the commercial industry accepted what was going on in the show ring as the right thing to do.
In the swine industry, the show ring is currently seeing a change that has resulted in kids traveling hundreds of miles in search of a feeder pig that they oftentimes spend hundreds of dollars for, in the hopes of getting a champion.
Is this really practical?
The motto of 4-H is to make the best better.
For years, 4 Hers have pledged their heads to clearer thinking, their hearts to greater loyalty, their hands to larger service and their collective health to better living, but is this really going on in the livestock program.
How clearly can you be thinking if you are willing to spend several hundred dollars for a pig that the markets tell us is worth less than a couple of hundred dollars when it is finished to 260 pounds? It doesn’t make sense.
In FFA, there is a pledge to practice brotherhood, honor agricultural opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership, which an FFA member should possess.
The FFA motto is: Learning to do, doing to learn, learning to live, living to serve.
How responsible can one be, if they spend more money for a feeder than a fully-grown market hog is worth?
How can you be earning to live if your project actually requires you to spend more money than your project will be worth?
I raise these points because a lot of our youth programs are way off course with what happens in the livestock industry.
In the old days, it used to be about learning how to raise livestock. How to provide daily care, feed, fit and show your animals.
Now it is more about who can spend the most money to win. Is this really what we want to teach our kids? He who spends the most money wins the prize?
I do not think so, but unfortunately, a whole subculture of livestock production has broken off from the commercial industry to cater to the show industry.
There are now producers out there who raise pigs just for the show market.
In some cases, I would not even want to eat a pig that they produce because it is so lean that it would lose some of the flavor components of the pork I am used to eating.
In addition, there are semen companies catering to the show industry, feed companies developing specific rations for those industries.
What has this done to the kids? First and foremost it has given them an unrealistic idea of what their pigs are worth.
A kid that routinely goes out and purchases a $300 feeder pig thinks that all feeder pigs are worth that kind of money. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Secondly, it paints a picture of the livestock industry that is just not true.
If they end up working in that industry there will be a rude awakening that they must face when they find out how things really work.
In the end, we need to rethink how we want kids to learn about the livestock industry.
Do we want them to have misconceived ideas of the value of the animals, feed and productive capabilities of the species they are working with, or do we want them to have a realistic view of the industry?
The leaders of our youth organizations need to give this some serious consideration.
Enrollment resumes for CRP, CREP programs (May 21, 2013)