Youth as our livestock producers are in a unique position. While 4-H and FFA livestock projects are a small part of the livestock industry as a whole, they often are the “window” through which the public sees animal agriculture. It is essential that the view seen by the general public as consumers is a positive one. It seems that, far too often, we place way too much emphasis on winning and losing at youth livestock shows. Unfortunately, many times adults consider a youth livestock project a failure if their son or daughter does not win. There will only be one Grand Champion animal, but there can be many “Blue Ribbon Kids.” Success with youth livestock projects should be measured by the outcomes of specific goal setting by the youth and their family and accomplishments with educational achievement. Successful livestock projects are the ones that maximize the genetic potential of the animal by proper nutrition, health and general management. Successful projects are also the ones that provide an educational experience for the youth while enhancing responsibility, discipline and self-confidence.
Project goals should be set long before a livestock project is purchased, regardless of species. Specifically, a planned nutrition, health and management program should be developed. There are no magic feeds or rations that make champions. It is the total feeding program, including the feeding schedule, the exercise program and the careful observation during the growing and finishing stages, that makes a champion. The five basic nutrients are water, protein, carbohydrates and fats (energy), minerals and vitamins. The amount of work that is put into a project is a direct reflection of the success. Daily care is just as important as nutrition, selection and health. Paying attention to the details is vital.
Nutritional deficiencies often lead to failure with the project. Common mistakes include choosing the wrong ration, changing rations too often, not feeding the correct amount and getting the ration out of balance by changing ingredients or adding supplements. A feed that is consistent from bag to bag and fresh is very important in order to maintain feed consumption and performance. Also, make sure that a set daily feeding schedule is maintained and make any changes to the diet gradually over several days to avoid digestive problems. Be sure to monitor average daily gain and adjust the diet as necessary to meet the desired ending weight and fat cover for market animals.