Encouraging Youth Participation Within The Cattle Industry

Published on Fri, 08/19/2022 - 2:09pm

Encouraging Youth Participation Within the Cattle Industry.

 Article courtesy of Behlen Mfg. Co.

 Those in the industry would agree that the beef cattle business can be as rewarding as it is challenging.  The challenging times humble us and make us thankful for the relationships and support we cultivate within the industry.  As time goes on, we also start to realize that we are the ones responsible for teaching the younger generation to become ethical and productive stewards of the industry.  So how are we preparing our youth to be successful and responsible within the beef cattle sector?  There are many avenues for youth to become involved, and the following are just a few.

The Family Operation
The most obvious way for some youth to become involved in the industry is simply by working daily on their family’s cattle operation.  These fortunate youth see the hard work it takes to care for and raise cattle.  Tom Moxon, Behlen Country District Manager and cattle producer, says the best thing about raising kids on the farm is their developing a good work ethic.  One proud parent moment for Moxon came this summer when he and his son, Aden,14, had to get several loads of hay off the field and put up in their barn.  “I told him ahead of time that we wouldn’t have any help because of busy schedules, but we just needed to push to get it done.  It was over 100° F, but that kid picked up and stacked all the bales onto the trailer while I drove and then stacked them inside the barn alone, without complaining once.”  Moxon states, “The hard work that’s needed on the farm builds a great work ethic that will help kids later in life.”  

Not only can being raised within the industry help build a good work ethic, but youth learn from their parents or mentors the ins and outs of their industry sector and make the social connections to continue that operation if they so choose.  This is why we continue to see some multi-generational farms and ranches flourish.  Youth learn what has and has not worked for previous generations and can use that knowledge while putting their own ideas to the test to continually improve the operation.

4-H and FFA
Today many in the agricultural industry can say they hold fond memories of their time spent on 4-H and FFA projects.  That’s because these two programs offer so much more than just friendly competition at the end of the year between projects.  Participants learn good animal husbandry and quality assurance skills.  Their projects help them gain business knowledge  by calculating the cost of feed and supplies.  They acquire friendships and leadership skills and they learn how to win with humility and lose with grace.  

Owning animals is not necessary to become involved.  Many counties and states offer partner programs or other types of competition such as livestock judging contests for those that don’t necessarily have or are not ready to own an animal.  We recommend contacting your local extension office or school FFA advisor on ways to become more involved.

Breed and Cattlemen Associations
Many cattle breed associations also have youth associations for kids to become involved.  Many of these associations are similar to 4-H and FFA in that they offer educational programs to youth as well as prestigious competition but are focused on one breed of cattle.  Again, owning cattle isn’t strictly necessary to become involved in these associations.  Many of them hold contests such as graphic design, photography, public speaking, and career development competitions.  They also offer the ability for youth to become more involved by showcasing their leadership skills and becoming an officer within the  organization.  These associations also help to pave the way into adulthood by offering scholarship opportunities and internships.  Most associations are passionate about developing their youth members as they know that they are the future of their organizations and the industry.

Livestock Competitions
A study out of Texas Tech University (Davis, 1998) found some surprising results when it studied the perceived benefits of competitive youth livestock showing.  The results showed that six significant themes emerged from the study.  Those were social relationships, character, family, exposure to competition, knowledge, and care of animals, and exposure to cultures.  The most prevalent theme was relationships.  The most reoccurring relationships were developed between the youth and fellow peers, advisors, sponsors, and show officials.  Building relationships can be viewed as not only a life skill but can help the youth to network within the industry.  

Moxon states that these competitions not only build relationships but also other life skills.  Whether it’s delivering buyer letters for a youth market animal subsidy sale or thanking an event sponsor, the youth develop the skills needed to talk with industry professionals and experience  situations they wouldn’t usually find themselves in.  Moxon also mentions that showing and competitions build a passion within the kids that hopefully brings a reward at the end of all the hard work.  That reward could come in the form of a winner’s banner or the knowledge that the market animal they raised is providing a nutritious meal for their family.

Internships and Seasonal Jobs
Many a high school kid searches for a summer job each year.  For those hoping for a future career within the cattle industry, these are great ways to gain valuable knowledge about the industry as well as expand their network. Typical seasonal jobs include those with local producers, feedlots, and sale barns.  These are great stepping-off points for youth to gain experience and get their feet wet within the industry.

Countless organizations within the industry offer internships that not only count towards college credit but give the youth insight into a different aspect of the industry.  For example, a college freshman may be used to the daily life of their family’s cow/calf operation but gain insight into what desirable traits can be tested genetically through their internship at a company that tests such traits in cattle.  A high school senior of the local feedlot owner may find they have a knack for marketing or graphic design in their internship with the regional cattlemen’s association.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to the different career paths within the cattle industry.

So how can we help get youth involved?  Well, that’s easy.  Say yes, the next time a youth organization asks you to donate some of your time.  If you’re financially able to sponsor a competition or purchase that steer at the local subsidy sale, do it.  Moxon advises parents or mentors, “Push your kids to take part and accept more responsibility. They may just surprise you!”

Just like the number of career paths within the industry, the number of ways to encourage youth participation is endless!