Thursday, August 14, 2014

More than Champions

Fair season is all but over; I think that is a good thing although I am always sad to see it end. There are very few things in this world that bring me more joy than attending youth livestock shows. I know there are some reasons for concern with the show ring and maybe someday we can open that can of worms. However, right now I want to focus on all that is right.
Often much focus is placed on the champion animals at any show. This is for good reason and they are to be admired and appreciated. Often many hours of hard work go into the development of that grand champion animal. Years of meticulous breeding, the best in nutrition, many resources and lots of time spent training and grooming. I commend anyone who exhibited a champion at any level this year, I hope you had the chance to appreciate and enjoy the experience.
While champion ribbons, trophies and belt buckles are coveted and rightfully so. They are the rewards for a job well done, I often wonder in our chase for the buckle if we are missing the bigger picture. I guess maybe it is my perspective as a former Extension Agent, but I see a lot of value in some of the lessons learned by the exhibitors not at the top of the class. I have seen it as a judge also, the kids who have animals that will never compete for the top of the class but who have gotten all they could out of what they have. I have a deep admiration and appreciation for those kids.
I think maybe I have focused on this more this year because our 4-H club just graduated two young men who exemplify what I am talking about. They have both had successes in their 4-H career but the champion ribbon has always just been out of reach. The livestock they bring to the fair gain well, they are very good commercial animals but not show animals and in the end that is OK. The rewards they have gotten will not tarnish or fade with time but will serve them for the rest of their lives.
What I have seen over the years are two hard working young men who understand the animal agriculture. I watched them take care of their projects with very little or no help. Not because their parents won’t help them, but because they don’t need too. I am learning with my older 4-Hers that the hardest thing to get used to as a parent and the most rewarding part is that if we do our job right we become obsolete.
Both of them understand the entire process of bringing that animal to the fair. They have taken the leadership role in selecting their project, deciding what and how much to feed, caring for that animal daily and taking the ultimate responsibility for producing the product that reaches your table. Without a doubt I have confidence that they have an understanding of animal agriculture that reaches far beyond the show ring.
In addition, they are good people. I know they would have been, even without 4-H, but I would like to think their experience has further developed them. They are the first to roll up their sleeves and go to work. Both of them have taken the time to work with the younger members of our club and other 4-Hers. The true sign of how great these two young men are is that I saw all of this when they did not know I or any other adult were watching. They helped others because it was the right thing to do.
I did not intentionally leave out any of the great kids who participated in their last county; instead I focused on the two I had the privilege to watch up close for the past ten years. I joked with them about being sad during the fair partially because I was sad to see them go. I am proud of Lane and Tyler and for all they have accomplished even if it does not include a champion ribbon or a shiny buckle. I believe they both will go on to positively impact animal agriculture and in the end that is the greatest accomplishment of all.

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