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H4: Why 4-H livestock projects build life skills

Guest Columnist: Becky Bennett

4-H is a non-formal, practical educational program for youth. It is the premiere youth development program of UF/IFAS Extension Services, which is a part of the national land grant university system. The Florida 4-H Youth Development program uses a learn-by-doing approach to enable youth to develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need to become competent, caring and contributing citizens of the world. This mission is accomplished by using the knowledge and resources of the land grant university system, along with the involvement of caring adults.

4-H is for all youth is open to ages five-18. Youth ages five-seven can be 4-H Cloverbud members where they can experience noncompetitive learning opportunities. 4-H serves youth from all backgrounds and interests. 4-H offers membership without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, gender, ability or handicap. It reaches both boys and girls through 4-H clubs, special-interest groups, school enrichment programs, residential camping and short-term projects. 4-H members are from rural communities, towns and urban cities. Most participate in contemporary projects such as citizenship, the arts, consumer education, aerospace and model rocketry, public speaking and animal sciences.  4-H is typically viewed as an agricultural and livestock based program when in fact most of our projects lie outside of our historical agricultural roots.

However, as a rural community, our most visible projects are animal science based.  These projects offer very important learning opportunities and life skills development.  Taking advantage of the opportunities that 4-H offers in the animal sciences opens up the possibility for youth to pursue careers as veterinarians, food/health inspectors, animal/agricultural scientists, consultants, farming, ranching and a host of other professions.  Youth who participate in these projects learn basic to advanced skills and knowledge in animal husbandry, agricultural practices, showmanship, environmental preservation, public presentation, etc. It also allows for youth to experience something in which they may have little to no experience, but may have expressed an interest in. Contrary to popular belief, even rural youth aren’t as connected to the agriculture and livestock industry as one might think.  Most importantly, these youth develop essential life skills in leadership, character building, management, empathy, caring and awareness and responsible citizenship. Although this is a short list of the skills youth develop from participating in the 4-H animal science project, it demonstrates the importance and lifelong impact traditional projects can have in the lives of youth of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Animal science projects have been scrutinized over the last several years by various organizations. Those involved in the agri-science community are responsible for educating the general public on the benefits and humane nature of this project.  4-H youth are first and foremost taught that their role is a caregiver and they are the responsible party for their animal. They are made aware of life-cycles and the roles that the agri-science community play in providing sustenance and products to the world at large.  Youth walk away from the project feeling more aware of their impact on the world, feeling more responsible for contributing to the development of sustainable communities with humane practices and a drive to educate others the importance of agri-science.

Join us at the North Florida Livestock Show & Sale February 15-18, to experience the positive impact animal science projects have on our youth and community!

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