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Livestock and life lessons
Youngsters prepare animals for show at fair
Madeline Johnson, 13, of Portal, brushes down her pigs before a showing at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Tuesday.

For many young people, “fair week” means rides, food and fun, but for some, it also means work, prizes and learning.

Each year, the Statesboro Kiwanis Club gives a number of area 4-H and FFA students a lamb, pig or goat to raise as a project and show at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, said club member and livestock barn manager Debra Pease.

The commitment these young folk make is more than just a fun school project. It’s a series of lessons teaching responsibility, leadership, sportsmanship and knowledge of animal care, and also helps the youth to understand life and, in some cases, death, she said.

Students interested in showing the animals apply for a project pig, goat or lamb. Kiwanis members choose recipients based on academic grades, involvement in extracurricular activities and other factors, she said. The kids who get animals must show the livestock in the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, but are allowed to enter any other shows they wish.

“They are their animals,” Pease said. After the animals outgrow showing, they can be sold, kept as pets or butchered.

Some may find the butchering option cruel, but it is a fact of life that most farm animals are raised solely for their meat, eggs, milk or wool, Pease explained. Many 4-H and FFA project animals do end up on the dining room table, but some are sold for breeding or simply kept as pets, she said.

Life can often be harsh, and sometimes the fate of a project animal is unexpected, as young lambs and goats often die without warning, Pease said. “I tell (the kids) that sometimes these things happen and it isn’t their fault.” If this happens, the child can apply again for a replacement project.

The teens and children who receive project animals must keep records on what and how much they feed the animal, and what expenses they incur, such as medical costs and other important factors. Keeping the records, as well as performing the daily chores of cleaning pens, grooming, feeding and training, teaches responsibility, Pease said.

Pease knows this from experience. Not only has she advised hundreds of kids over the years regarding project animals, but her daughters showed Kiwanis animals when they were younger.

“I have a rule of thumb,” she said, recalling a time when a child in her home failed to “feed up.” When it came time for dinner, that child faced an empty plate until the animal was fed.

Taking care of a project animal and working to show also teaches manners, according to Pease. “Kids who show animals are great. They are polite, respectful, knowledgeable, and say ‘yes ma’am and no, ma’am.’”

Pease has seen young people “on the verge of trouble” transform after becoming involved in showing animals. “I’ve had them tell me ‘This is the best thing that ever happened to me,’” she said.

Entry fees from the Kiwanis shows are used as a scholarship for senior show participants, and many students use their Kiwanis animals to start their own herds or flocks, raising money for college, she said.

Some students this year are raising bees as a project, receiving equipment, hives and a packet of bees instead of a pig, lamb or goat. They raise honey to be entered in the fair, and if they make extra, are allowed to sell it, Pease said.

During the Kiwanis Fair shows, 4-H and FFA students and their families mill around behind the show ring, back in the stall area, getting ready to show their animals. They are expected to keep a clean stall and keep their animal fed and groomed.

Cadelyn Jones, 9, sat Tuesday night beside a table set up near her pig’s stall. She and her father Lee Jones handed out fliers advertising an upcoming pig sale to be held Nov. 7 at the fairgrounds, and she waited her turn to show her pig, Antarctica, named for her snow white color.

Cadelyn was also ready to explain how to win a show. “Keep your eye on the judge and make a ‘ham sandwich,’ with your pig between you and the judge,” she said, referring to the practice of keeping the pig visible to the judge.

She has been showing since age 3, she said.

“It’s fun. I like the pigs, hanging with my friends,” and taking care of her livestock. “I feed her and brush her and feed her marshmallows,” which are her pigs’ favorite treat, Cadelyn said.

Antarctica won’t be a real ham sandwich, she said. The pig’s fate is to be sold to a breeder after Cadelyn is done showing her.

Across the aisles, a smiling young man sat quietly beside his project pig, Hammy, waiting for his show class to be called. Reid Thompson, 12, said “I just enjoy the pigs.” This was his first year showing, but likely won’t be his last, he said.

“It’s harder than it looks,” he confided. ”They (pigs) can be gross.” He said he is responsible for feeding, caring for and grooming Hammy. He was accompanied to the show by his father, Craig “Cheze” Thompson.

Tuesday, the Kiwanis Fair livestock show was for market hogs and gilts (young, unbred female hogs). Market goats were shown Wednesday and market lambs and ewes (female sheep) were shown Thursday.

Many animals used in the shows, especially pigs, are brought in from other states such as Indiana, Pease said, adding that the low number of hog breeders in the South makes importing them from other states necessary.

“There are so few pigs left in Georgia that are show quality,” Lee Jones said. “It’s easier to find good pigs” in the northwest.

For some, like the Jones family, showing the Kiwanis project animals means a great deal more than just showing at the fair. “This is our eighth show this year,” Jones said. “This is the perfect youth program.”


Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.





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