Local 4-H Clubs showcase work at fair

By Tristan Bennett
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO, Ark. – Members of local 4-H Clubs participated in animal competitions at the Northeast Arkansas District Fair. The organization uses fair shows as a way to showcase members’ hands-on projects to the public.

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service runs the 4-H program across the state. The organization encourages young people to take on societal issues and work to make their communities better. Club members choose their own projects and must take on the responsibility of the project, whether it takes weeks or years to finish.

Greene County Cooperative Extension agent Lance Blythe said, “It’s a learn by doing organization. Kids learn by project work that they do on their own time. An animal or a project is a way to teach kids life skills.”

Arkansas 4-H members can choose projects in areas such as agriculture, animal science and plant science. Many members of the Greene and Craighead County 4-H Clubs chose projects in the animal science category, and they raised animals to compete at the fair.

Members choose projects based on the time commitment they are willing to contribute as well as their financial abilities.

Blythe said, “These projects range anywhere from a few weeks along with chickens and rabbits all the way to cattle and horse projects, which can last for years. It’s a time dedication and financial as well.”

After choosing a project, members must find the animal they would like to raise. Members receive help from the club and the Cooperative Extension to find one, but many buy locally with some buying from all over the country.

Lance Blythe, Greene County Cooperative Extension agent, leads a goat to the scale for weigh-in before the showing. Photo by Tristan Bennett

Lainey Walling, a member of the Craighead County 4-H, raised a Polish rabbit for her project. She worked with her rabbit for several months before the fair.

“You have to make sure they are not shedding, and you have to brush them out,” Lainey said. “You also have to make sure that they’re not sick because that will put them out of the competition.”

Members learn how to properly care for the animal they are raising, including feeding, maintaining health and training.

“They learn about health and nutrition and train the animal to lead so they can show the animal to a judge when it comes time,” Blythe said. “They are taking care of something besides their self.”

When it comes time to showcase the animal, judges look for certain characteristics in every species and breed. Rabbits compete in classes based on breed, age and gender. Members must enter their rabbit in the correct class or it may be disqualified.

Carrie Walling, Lainey’s mother and a 4-H Club alumna said, “Each rabbit breed has its own set of expectations. For example, our rabbits are Polish, and a big characteristic is little ears and big eyes.”

As they raise their animal, members must also keep a record book. It shows their goals for the project, what they learned, how they managed their project on a daily basis and the opportunities they took to learn more about their project.

Members of 4-H show their animals at fairs as a way to showcase their work, and judging tells them how good they did. Blythe said 4-H members are not necessarily at an advantage in competition against other animals.

“The advantage comes from how well you do all the things involved in a project. Beginning with genetics. Where did you get the animal? How well did you feed it, train it, take care of it?” Blythe said.

Depending on which project they choose, members also have opportunities to go on to compete in more 4-H competitions. They can show off their projects in other ways such as 4-H O-Rama, a district and statewide program. Members who raise animals for their projects qualify for several 4-H O-Rama competitions such as the speaking contest, livestock judging and quiz bowls.

Arkansas 4-H helps more than 134,000 young people acquire new skills and develop healthy lifestyles that they will need for the rest of their lives. Members not only learn about livestock, but also have opportunities to learn about science, citizenship, leadership, public speaking and many more topics.

“They do a lot of public speaking, so I learned to get over my shyness and a love of animals,” Carrie said.

Four-H clubs in areas such as baking and dogs allow the organization to reach more young people outside of the traditional clubs. Arkansas 4-H offers free participation in all 75 state counties.

Editor’s Note: Lainey Walling, Craighead County 4-H member, demonstrates how rabbits are judged at the fair. Photo by Tristan Bennett