Youth gain knowledge and skills through livestock educational events

Bernie O'Rourke
4-H MEMBERS FROM Iowa, Grant and Jackson counties competed on the national stage during the North American International Livestock Exposition. Representing Wisconsin was: 
Livestock Judging Iowa County: Emma Steffes, Annie, Ellie and Joey Robinson.  Coached by:  Jeff Thomas, Mike Robinson, Matt Heins and Lora Springer. Livestock Skillaton Grant County: Jessica Patterson, Abby Meier, Avery and Mason Crooks.  and coached by Dennis Patterson. Livestock Quiz Bowl Jackson County: Trent Laufenberg, Grace Kling, Kayden Moseley, Austin Laufenberg and Wyatt Berg and coached by Jessie Oberlin.

Three Wisconsin teams from Iowa, Grant, and Jackson counties packed their bags. They joined many young people from across the U.S. that traveled to Louisville in November to test their animal science knowledge at one of the most prestigious livestock events, the North American International Livestock Exposition.  

Wisconsin teams had a great showing in Louisville in 2021, but accolades are not all that youth gain from these experiences. While receiving recognition and accolades is powerful and motivating, we are interested in seeing how these activities benefit young people and move into society and career options.  

This work started many years ago for most youth, preparing and learning from the older members as junior members in third grade. This work was the beginning of the journey of attending weekly practices with peers, older youth, and adult volunteers who guided their learning through hands-on activities and fun interactive sessions that had youth coming back for more each week. 

Much appreciation goes to those adult volunteers-coaches for the unending hours of preparation and support of young people on this path, which included preparing engaging activities and perhaps a pan of bars or casserole to keep kids coming and motivated – through the mouths of teenagers.

As a parent myself, there is nothing that I hope my children cultivate more than engaging in positive youth-adult partnership with other kind and caring adults. While meaningful and positive classroom teachers are instrumental, community adults give their time in projects that youth seek to give youth organizations such as 4-H an added benefit for youth growth.  

A Wisconsin evaluation survey conducted at the state 4-H Livestock Quiz Bowl and Skillathon in March of 2020, right before the pandemic, yielded key findings supported by a similar evaluation done at the national 4-H Livestock Skillathon contest of the 2017 youth participants. Youth in knowledge-based activities yield or gain life skills and have an edge in understanding postsecondary opportunities of interest.

Since these activities involve many disciplines of animal sciences, from genetics to meat science and everything in between, not to mention new and evolving areas such as precision agriculture and animal well-being, it's easily understood how these youth are more prepared than their peers.  Keep an eye out for the results of our Wisconsin evaluation in the coming months for other areas of awareness. 

While waiting for the banquet to begin in Louisville, I asked the students and coaches to reflect on their time in the program and capture them in written form. Here are some of the responses:  

"I learned a lot and developed many skills involving judging and life!" – Annie Robinson, Iowa County Livestock Judging 4-H'er.

"This experience has taught me to think on my feet and how to work well with others. These and many other skills I will be able to use later in my life." – Jessica Patterson, Grant County Livestock Skillathon 4-H'er.

"I started coaching some of my team members eight years ago, and it has been fun and oh so fulfilling to see them grow and mature and see the awesome young adults that they have become.  They are so dedicated and hardworking and have so much livestock knowledge. I am beyond proud to be their coach." – Jessie Oberlin, Jackson Livestock Quiz Bowl coach.

Lastly, we cannot forget all the fun and teamwork that goes into these types of experiences. One coach fondly recalls always stopping for ice cream on the way home from the event and many funny stories of car rides to and from events. Indeed, the memories sustain the experience and usually keep families engaged for generations.  

Jackson County Livestock Quiz Bowl team was reserve national champions!  Trent Laufenberg was 5th and Kaden Moseley was 9th in number of quiz questions answered. 

Grant County Livestock Skillathon team was 4th overall, 4th in Identification, 4th in Evaluation and 1st in Quality Assurance. Jessica Patterson was 3rd overall, 8th in Quality assurance and 1st in Identification. 

Iowa county represented Wisconsin well in a competitive livestock judging contest. 

For more information on these events and how to get involved, contact Bernie O'Rourke, Extension Youth Livestock Specialist, and Jill Jorgenson, 4-H Animal Science and Agriculture Outreach Specialist. Also, follow Wisconsin 4-H Youth Development and Wisconsin Youth Livestock Programs on social media for more information.

Bernadette O'Rourke

O'Rourke is the Extension Youth Livestock Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison Animal & Dairy Sciences Department