Attract Youth to Livestock Production
In Texas, we don’t even have time to break our New Year’s resolutions before stock show season gets into full swing. My 10-year-old son is in his second year of showing lambs and we just finished up our county show. Although, baseball is still his number one priority, he has grown to appreciate his livestock projects. And I am growing to appreciate what his livestock project are doing for him.
There are a few things that have changed quite a bit compared to 20 years ago when I was showing lambs. Lambs and goats are much bigger, and judges tend to like them a full body condition heavier than before. The quality and depth of competition is much stronger, which makes it more difficult to place very high at any of the major stock shows. The costs of purchasing and feeding competitive lambs and goats has also gone up. I never thought I’d see the day where I referred to a lamb as “only costing $500.”
Thankfully, the real benefits of these projects have remained the same. My son is learning important life lessons such as responsibility, general livestock care, and the value of hard work. During this process, I have had flashbacks of the time that I spent with my father and lessons that he taught me through showing lambs. I wouldn’t trade those moments for any monetary value.
My experiences in showing lambs created a passion for raising sheep and allowed me to build a bond with those who shared my interest, which forged a path that created who I am today. This is true of many youth who are involved in these livestock projects. I’d be willing to bet that a large percent of adults who have a career in agriculture, also showed animals in grade school.
But this does not mean that youth have to be involved in 4H or FFA livestock projects to develop a passion for animal agriculture. These projects require an enormous amount of time and energy that could be channeled into other efforts related to ranching.
As time has passed and the level of competition has increased, breeding of livestock show projects has taken some traits to an extreme. For the commercial producer, show lambs and goats (and most all show animals) have been bred too much for a specific look on a particular day, and not enough about performance under limited management indicative of larger scale production.
For instance, show herds may not be able to maintain adequate body condition common to Texas without a high level of supplementation. They may not rear an adequate number of lambs/kids compared to commercial genetics. These animals have not been bred for a high level of parasite resistance or resilience. Show sheep tend to not produce the best fleeces. To be honest, there is no perfect animal that can do it all. Animals bred to be superior for different traits are equally good in their own right.
Nonetheless, I feel that we now have two different industries. Show animals are bred to result in a particular appearance that the majority of judges will find pleasing to the eye. Granted these animals can have exceptionally good carcass value, but they may not be the most profitable genetics for commercial operations.
I bring this up because I personally struggled with this for years. When animals are evaluated in the showring, they are commented on their genetic superiority with terminology that is centered around livestock production. I took this to heart and for years, I could not see the value in commercial breeding animals that were good for their purpose but did not look like a show animal.
If we want to help our youth make the transition from success in the show ring to success in commercial ranching, we need to make sure that they understand that the best animals for different purposes are likely to not look the same. We also need to make sure that we are respectful to others that have animals that don’t look like ours.
Ultimately, we are all raising food and fiber (and children). We are fortunate to have a customer for most all the products that we produce and a platform for teaching our kids about livestock and life. There is no need to talk negatively about another livestock producer because they don’t raise the type of animals you do.
There is a bright future for sheep and goat production in Texas, regardless of the type of animals each of us raise. Let’s keep developing young people that will continue the tradition of ranching to feed the world, protect rural communities, and care for the land.
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.