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Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Good and The Bad I Learned From Raising a 4-H Animal

I stumbled across this article on my newsfeed the other day, and thought as a person who has been through the 4-H program for nine years and continues to help others be involved, I would share my perspective of raising a 4-H project.

A few key words come to mind when I look back at the years I spent in 4-H: Responsibility, Respect, Trust, Hardship. All of these stem from the education I got from my 4-H project.
A boy waters his 4-H pigs
This young boy is watering his pigs
Responsibility. Raising a hog, sheep or calf from a young age takes an everyday commitment. These animals have to be fed and watered, have their pens cleaned on a daily basis, and washed by hand (sometimes twice or three times). For me, this meant heading to the barn before school, before any of my classmates were up, and tending to my beloved animals. I can still remember the days of hiking up the hill to the barn in the dark and rain with my sister to feed our steers, and give them a scratch as they came to the fence. 

A girl holds her baby piglet
We are our animals' caretakers and they trust us to do what is right.
Trust. I learned that with each year, you have to form a bond with your animal. Pigs may be one of the smartest animals I know, and it takes hours upon hours to build a relationship with them. As a little girl, I would sit in the shavings in the pen as the piglets began to chew on my boots. As the relationship grew, I would take them on walks around the field, training them for the show ring. By the time the show rolls around, there is a true partnership that exists between you and your pig. They trust you to lead them in the right direction, and vice versa.

A sow feeds a new litter of piglets
This sow has a lot of mouths to feed!
Hardship. For every proud moment that you share with these animals, there are equally as many hardships. I remember my first litter of piglets when I was 5 years old. I was so excited to see 12 little piglets running around. But I also got to see Mother Nature’s work as well. Two of the piglets were squished by the sow and I remember the helpless feeling as there was nothing I could do to save them. That was my first lesson in  “letting nature take its course.” Another time a neighbor brought a bummer lamb over for us to bottle-feed.  Nothing makes a little girl happier than having a baby lamb to bottle feed in her house. But once again, after a week of caring for the small animal, its body gave up on it one day. At a very young age I had experienced death of an animal I cared deeply for.

I will admit that the author of the article was right about one thing. We are forced to harden a piece of our hearts.  But from that comes growth and learning.  What can we do in the future to prevent these hardships? What has to occur due to nature? However, I also realize the amount of work that goes in to producing a quality product that will feed a family. I understand where my food comes from.

Through my time in 4-H my animals taught me more about real life than a classroom ever has. Yes, I will admit getting that champion ribbon is always fun. But it’s the life skills of responsibility, trust and hardship that will continue to drive my passion for agriculture, and a passion to teach other youth the same lessons as well.

Until next time,

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