By Jenny Groen
As the county and state fair season comes to a close across New York, many 4-H Youth across the state are looking forward to next year’s program and have already started planning their projects for the upcoming year. For many 4-H Youth, their county and state fair experiences are the highlight of their summer as they offer an opportunity for the youth to showcase their hard work and dedication they’ve put into their various projects through the year. One program in particular is helping build life skills as well as feeding the community
4-H members have a unique opportunity to gain many valuable life skills through their 4-H Market Animal Projects. In addition to gaining such skills as communication, critical thinking, financial management, organization, responsibility, and leadership through their project involvement and 4-H club, 4-H members also have the opportunity to receive a premium price for the animals that they market and sell through the youth market animal auction. Many youths use the money gained from their 4-H projects to re-invest into the following year’s project animal, to help pay for college, purchase a first vehicle, or other expenses.
To be successful in the 4-H Market Animal Project, youth are responsible for identifying and securing, through breeding or purchasing, a project animal which they commit to raising, handling, conditioning, and exhibiting at the County Fair and/or State Fair. Following strict guidelines set forth by United States Ag & Markets as well as local program guidelines, animals are evaluated by a judge and placed accordingly. Youth then present their animals at auction and sell their project animal to the highest bidder.
Successful completion of a market animal project includes youth marketing their project animal(s) and recruiting buyers to bid on their animal(s) during the auction. 4-H Youth are responsible for securing bidders, which is a process that is done several months prior to the County Fair & Sale. Youth must think critically about who their potential buyer could be, what a breakeven price is, what is the best way to contact their potential buyer (in person, mailed letter, social media, etc.) Marketing their Sale Animal is a great opportunity to develop stronger communication skills and build self-confidence. Parents and club leaders often rehearse with younger youth to help prepare before visiting with potential buyers.
It is not unusual for buyers at a 4-H Market Animal Sale to pay above market value. The majority of buyers often are local business and/or individuals that believe in the value of the program and what to support youth as they learn the skills to become successful in business – specifically agricultural business. In Steuben County, there are multiple buyers that donate hundreds of pounds the beef, pork, poultry, etc., once processed to the local Food Banks to feed and support community members in need.
Following the purchase of an animal, 4-H members are encouraged to thank their buyer(s). This is an important piece in business management that shows the buyer how much their support means and is appreciated. This small gesture also helps to further build the relationship between the buyer and the youth, as well as the 4-H Market Animal Program and helps promote future business and sales.
Jenny Groen is the 4-H Youth Program Leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Steuben County.