Some parents ruin 4-H experience

It’s show time. The pig, lamb and goat sales were in the spring. Steers were chosen last fall. FFA and 4-H animals have been carefully fed and exercised. Summertime jackpot shows provided chances to practice showing and to gauge the animals’ progress, but winning at county and state fairs in late summer and fall is every youngster’s hope.

Ideally, the whole family is involved with these animal projects. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen families where “getting involved” takes on a whole new dimension. The parents don’t understand the difference between help and guidance and “taking over.”

The first time your child watches another kid win with a steer or lamb he (or she) never touched before show day provides what I call a “wonderful teaching opportunity.” That’s when you explain life is not fair, and you might as well learn that while you’re young.

The payoff comes when your child, who did the work himself (or herself), wins.

I learned about unfairness as a child at the county fair. My family was the first to have black Angus cattle in Hereford country. I proudly picked out a great heifer to show. The people in charge carefully explained the situation. (Ever notice how unfairness is always “carefully” explained?) They had no class for black cattle, so I would have to show in the same class as the Hereford heifers.

Wanta guess where my black heifer placed? Angus cattle usually win at that fair nowadays. My dad was ahead of his time.

Some dads, however, become problems. One 4-H family we know had two girls who were excellent little showmen, but the whole time his daughters were in the ring he stood at the fence giving instructions, so the poor girls spent most of their show ring time looking at Dad rather than showing their animals.

Then, as it happened, they ended up at a show where the kids could enter a parent in the showmanship contest. They entered their dad. While he was changing clothes they borrowed a hotshot and got one of their lambs’ attention with it.

Dad didn’t have a chance. Nobody told on the girls because their Dad’s behavior was infamous. Other parents even stood at the fence and shouted “instructions” to him.

Sometimes people other than dads get caught up in the “we must win,” syndrome. Often, livestock judges raise animals themselves, and a champion boosts the breeding farm’s prestige.

A pig farmer assured a youngster he would win a certain show. The farmer would be the judge, and he would recognize the ear marks the pig he raised carried.

Show time came, and the judge put what he thought was the chosen pig in the ringside pen for first place. Unbeknownst, though, another family suspected the trick, so they made their pig’s ear match the judge’s.

The young showman’s father actually said, “Wrong pig.” Unbelievably, the judge switched pigs. Needless to say, he never judged that fair again.

A wise 4-H agent once said, “We’re not raising animals – we’re raising children.”