As a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension county coordinator, I am surrounded by some of the most amazing and fantastic young people, some of whom I’m related to and some I just have the pleasure of working with.
Let me explain. I am passionate about youth livestock projects. I think youth livestock projects, like showing hogs, cattle, goats, lambs or even horses, are one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences out there for youth today.
How many other activities teach the level of responsibility that’s required of someone showing an animal at a livestock show? Growing up in my family, the animals got fed before the humans got fed every day. It wasn’t a chore. It was a lifestyle and a choice I made, with the support of my family, to be responsible for the animals that I showed.
Later, some of the animals were bred for us to show, while others were harvested and provided our family with a great source of protein and food. I learned so much, and I am very glad that my nephews followed in the family’s footsteps and now show Red Angus cattle and market goats in Texas.
I often whip out my phone to share pictures from their latest shows or their new animals. Without realizing it, some of you even watch my nephews online when they’re at major shows like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which was held three weeks ago. I try to attend as many of the major shows as I can. Aunt Laura is a great kid wrangler, laundry deliverer, food gatherer and any other kind of "gofer" she needs to be.
The 2016 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was an event with many moving parts for the Griffeth nephews. Both 15-year-old Tyler and 11-year-old Zachary had a market goat and a breeding heifer to show, and Tyler participated in the calf scramble one night.
Zachary showed his goat first thing Thursday morning, but didn’t make the cut to the top 30 out of his class of 82 head. Tyler had a heavier goat that ended up in the first class to show on Friday morning instead of Thursday afternoon like we expected. His first activity ended up being the calf scramble at the rodeo that Thursday night.
If you’re not familiar with a calf scramble, it is mass chaos with calves. Thirty teenagers stand on one side of the rodeo arena floor, which in this case is NRG Stadium where the Houston Texans play football. Fifteen 200- to 300-pound calves are released into the arena. The kids chase the calves and attempt to catch them, halter them and drag them back into the box in the middle of the arena.
The teenagers that succeed get a $1,750 voucher to purchase a calf that they will bring back to show in Houston in 2017, but half of them will only receive a “thank you for participating” and the knowledge gained from trying something new. There was so much commotion that I completely lost sight of Tyler. Eventually, he came out of the corner without a calf, looking completely winded. I was out of breath just watching those kids run around that arena floor.
After a few minutes, all of the calves were caught and the winners were announced. Unfortunately, Tyler didn’t catch one. He should have come to our seats shortly after the event to watch the concert that was starting, but he didn’t. More time went by, but he still wasn’t there. We started to get a little concerned. Finally, he appeared with his mother and a sling on his right arm — he dislocated his right shoulder.
That’s right, Tyler was injured when another kid accidentally knocked him off a calf. Luckily, he was examined by the sports medicine doctors that were working the rodeo. They put his shoulder back into place, without pain medication other than ibuprofen, and took an X-ray to confirm.
Personally, I would have been curled up in a ball waiting for my morphine drip. This 15-year-old young man dislocated his shoulder, had it popped back into place, came to the concert and even ate supper. And all I could think after finding out that he was OK was that he had a goat to show in 11 hours.
He was up before I was the next morning at 5 a.m. and we went to the barn and tried out the shoulder. He felt that he could show, so at 8:15 a.m. he walked his goat into the ring and showed his goat as well as I’ve seen him show goats. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the cut, but how many adults would have done something similar less than 12 hours after an injury? To top it off, he showed his heifer Saturday afternoon, less than 48 hours after dislocating his shoulder. This time he earned second place in a very tough class. He even placed third in intermediate showmanship. I am just in awe of his perseverance and tenacity in seeing his projects to the end. We even toured the Johnson Space Center the next day.
Here at home in Georgia, I am equally as proud of the Webster County, Georgia, 4-H youth who participated in Cloverleaf District Project Achievement. Seven fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders researched and wrote presentations on topics they were interested in. Our local 4-H staff worked with them for several weeks to organize their presentations and prepare posters and other visual aids for their demonstrations. We even had a presentation preview party the Friday before the event for all the youth to present their demonstrations in front of their parents, other 4-H’ers and even a county commissioner.
They had a great time in Perry, Georgia, giving their presentations for the judges, interacting with 4-H’ers from other counties and participating in some fun activities. All seven 4-H’ers placed in the top three. While I enjoy placing in the top three as much as anybody, I was more proud of watching these youth grow over the past month and year. They’ve grown in maturity. They’ve grown in poise in front of groups. They’ve grown in terms of presentation skills. They’ve grown as human beings. The camaraderie was strong among the seven 4-H’ers, the two older 4-H’ers who served as teen leaders and the parents, grandparents and volunteers. They all seemed to care as much about how others placed as how they placed themselves.
You know you’re getting old when you say, “These young kids are going to ruin everything” or “These kids don’t know squat.” And maybe they don’t sometimes. But maybe we old folks don’t either. I look at youth like my nephews or the 4-H’ers I work with and think this country is in pretty good hands.
For more information about youth livestock projects, contact your local UGA Extension 4-H agent or go to www.Georgia4H.org/livestock.