I've been quiet throughout most of this "pandemic" about how it's affecting our kids and industry. Yes, I've mentioned the lack of processing and the run on meat, but the real tragedy is what has become of our livestock shows and the kids that work so hard to attend them.
I am a 4H leader. I have grown up at the county fair and have attended every year since before I was born. It is a mainstay in my life as well as many other people I know. So it truly shattered my heart as I watched fair after fair cancel around the state of Michigan. I know what it takes to exhibit livestock: the time, money, determination, and responsibility to fulfill a market project is extreme and absolutely not for the faint of heart. Our state shut down and things began to cancel back in March. March is actually half way through our market beef project here in Ottawa County. We weigh in our steers at the beginning of November and it's an 8 month project.
When MSU and MSU Extension decided to shut down all in person 4H activities until September, I have to say what a slap in the face to all these kids that had paid their fees, purchased their livestock, and then to say they cannot participate in any "4H" in person activity but I'm sorry no refunds...? No. Unacceptable. To tell the livestock kids that, "there are a variety of 'virtual' opportunities in 4H they can participate in, so we will not have any refunds" is just wrong. Majority of the kids that show animal of any species are not going to be in it for a virtual class online, they want to show! How does one truly show off their showmanship skills in a video show by themselves or in a market class that has no judge to actually get their hands on the animal? The skill of the photographer, editing, and a variety of other factors can change the look of an animal in a digital format. In my personal opinion? What a horrible way to showcase your skill and animal. That's not real competition. These kids have been shorted the opportunity to do what they do best. Robbed of anything "normal" in life the last 4-5 months and that trend looks to be continuing. Strip away everything kids have come to know and love and watch them fall apart: anxiety and depression can seep in fast if we aren't careful.
Now, yes all "4H" events were cancelled but 4H and a county fair do not necessarily go hand in hand. 4H is not the fair and vice versa. We as a livestock committee in Ottawa County decided that we couldn't sit back and let the kids down. It just wasn't an option. We put our heads together and we started planning. We reached out to processing facilities and started to line up everything we needed to have a successful fair without 4H, which included no access to our funds. We had things rolling. Fairboard was on board with us, processing was mostly lined up, judges were contacted.... then it all fell apart. First, the processors backed out leaving us high and dry for any hopes of having animal processed. When we originally have 120 pens of hogs, 50 steers, 40 lambs and goats that throws all of us into a panic. I know we asked kids several times, if they were still wanting to participate this year under our conditions at the time. Numbers went down every time we asked. We then thought about doing an auction but only offering re-sell as an option, no processing. That flopped.
Next our fairboard pulled back their support for us to use the grounds. Super, thanks a lot.
We were about to throw in the towel completely, I was heartbroken. But, our wonderful fairboard representative and his family offered up their farm for us to use! Back to the drawing board we went. We settled on a trailer in show, like most jackpot style shows. Roll in, weigh your animals, find a parking spot and hang out until it's showtime. I have to say I was a little skeptical as to how it would all work out. The unknown is hard to combat in my mind. However, we pulled it off. Shows only, no auction, no processing options. Our numbers may have not been what we originally planned on, but I heard several times this week "what you lack in quantity, you make up in quality." I am so proud of the kids that stuck it out through all of our uncertainty. We wanted some normal, so we did what we could.
So, under a big tent in the front yard at a farm, we held a show. A good show! Hopefully it's an experience that none of these kids will ever forget, I know that I won't.
To do my part to help the kids, I have decided to purchase a steer and 2 hogs to support the cause. These kids have worked hard enough, they shouldn't have to lose money by sending their animals to a livestock auction on top of that. New beef and pork that will be added to inventory this next month will be youth raised! Proud of these kids and all they have accomplished this year.
As for 4H and what that may hold for next year? I won't hold my breath.
~Until Next Time