Many livestock roam the farm fields of Sampson County and a program from Cooperative Extension is giving youths a chance to show off interesting things about them.
Local extension agents are preparing to train youths through the 4-H Skillathon and Livestock Judging initiative.
Sampson County 4-H, a program operated under Cooperative Extension, is hosting its first practice day soon. The first session is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. May 8 at the livestock facility at the Sampson County Center, 55 Agriculture Place, Clinton.
Elizabeth Merrill, 4-H program assistant, enjoys seeing the passion youths have for animals.
“A lot of these kids are really in love with animals,” she said. “I love the opportunity to get these kids involved with livestock projects, even if they can’t own a livestock animal. For a lot of these kids, this is their only way to be around a livestock program.
“Just to see their enjoyment and how they enjoy the program is enough to brighten anyone’s day,” Merrill said.
County Extension Director Eileen Coite said the sessions will allow participants to prepare for upcoming contest.
“It’s like any other kind of team where you practice and be more prepared when the contest comes,” Coite said.
The Skillathon is scheduled to begin Thursday, July 20, and will continue through Saturday, July 22. During this event, the knowledge of cattle, sheep, goats and swine will be put to the test. Youths are required to identify equipment, feeds, breeds and meats. A written exam will also be included.
“There’s a lot to learn because they’re learning about cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs,” Coite said. “They may have a practice that just on one species and the next week, it may be on a different species. That’s why you have to practice several times.”
During livestock judging, youths have the opportunity to judge 12 to 14 different classes of livestock. Classes may include breeding, reproduction and market classes.
Coite has been involved with many events involving animals and youths. She believes participants walk away with a variety of life skills.
“It teaches them responsibility and the knowledge to care for the animal,” she said in regards of learning the right steps. “The judging part of it teaches them speaking skills and builds their confidence.”
Merrill feels the same way.
“I really love seeing these kids involved in the leadership and communication skills they get from this program,” she said about personal development and life skills gained
The process requires participants to do an oral presentation in front of a judge about their animal selection.
“If they chose one animal over another, they have to explain why they made that decision,” Coite said. “It gives them the opportunity to organize their thoughts and also to stand in front of someone and maintain eye contact and give a clear presentation on why they made their decisions.”
When it comes to livestock, the upcoming Skillathon is one of the largest events of the year. Each year, youths from all across the state participate in the event.
“It’s a big event,” Coite said. “The kids who do the best in the state go on to represent North Carolina on the national level.”
Interested youths are not required to be a member of 4-H to attend the first practice date. But they can be enrolled later to become members. She welcome other members from other agriculture-related organizations to get involved too, if they would like.
“Sometimes FFA does livestock projects and livestock judging too,” Coite said. “So maybe if they were working on this in school, but not in 4-H, they can enroll in 4-H.”
Merrill added that they can be from all walks of life and be involved.
“They don’t have to own the animals,” Merrill said. “They’ll go around the animals and we go out to farm visits.”
Ownership or prior knowledge is not required for youths 9 to 18 years old. To participate in the contest, youths must be at least 9 years old as of Jan. 1, 2017. Anyone younger may still attend and participate if their at least 5.
Extension officials are asking participants to notify program leaders by Monday, May 5. For more information, contact Merrill, at 910-592-7161 or 919-738-7516. She may also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org