4-H and FFA Youth Excel and Prepare for a Better Future in Agriculture

Entertainment, food, music, and rides are all things fairgoers get excited about when the Kentucky State Fair is in full swing. But in the midst of a day eating turkey legs, visiting Freddy Farm Bureau and listening to live music, teens and young adults are showing off months of hard work to judges and waiting for their livestock to be named the next Grand Champion.

Spencer County residents Darilyn Browning, 18, and Courtney Jeffiers, 15, are working towards just that at the Kentucky State Fair this year.

Showing animals is more than just a hobby for these students.

“This is my passion and that is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Browning said. “And it’s a great way to make connections. You make friends from across the state.”

Browning and Jeffiers are active in the 4-H and FFA programs at their high school.

The Kentucky 4-H Youth Development Program ranks among the top ten states in 4-H categories nationwide and has more than 238,500 youth involved in its programs. Those involved learn valuable problem solving skills, responsibility, self-confidence and positive decision making.

The Kentucky FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, promotes leadership development, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. They have more than 14,000 members in more than 140 local chapters.

Students in 4-H can compete until the age of 18. Kentucky FFA membership extends until the age of 21.

Both of these programs are highlighted at the Kentucky State Fair with their own categories for entries and awards. The 2013 fair had more than 10,000 entries and approximately 3,600 4-H and FFA exhibitors. Students are able to show within numerous categories ranging from crafts to cattle.

Both Browning and Jeffiers have grown up surrounded by agriculture and livestock, both beginning 4-H at age nine and joining FFA in high school.

Their work includes breeding and raising livestock and then preparing and showcasing them at various fairs and shows. Browning specifically shows market lambs through FFA as well as breeding sheep, while Jeffiers shows swine as part of her family’s operation.

Caring for the livestock involves feeding, watering and cleaning the animals and their barns. Everything they do is preparation for show season.

When school ends and it gets closer to show time, the regimen becomes more extensive. The teenagers must pay more attention to the cleanliness and appearance of the animals. They exercise them and in some cases give them protein shakes to build up their muscle in preparation for judging. The livestock even require judging practice so they can get used to someone approaching them without being frightened.

The animals must be exhibited at a district show before being shown at the Kentucky State Fair. So the girls must travel within and outside of Spencer County to do so.

The process of showing, whether at a county fair, district show or the Kentucky State Fair, is consistent. Right before the show, the animals get a thorough wipe down to ensure they look their absolute best. Once in the ring, the girls must walk their animals around, set them up and brace them (making their muscles pop out).

4-H and FFA youth showing livestock at the Kentucky State Fair

4-H and FFA youth showing livestock at the 2013 Kentucky State Fair

Once the animals are set up and braced, the judge walks around to take a closer look.

“[The animal] is always in between the judge and you. You don’t want to be blocking the animal’s view,” Browning shared.

After all of the animals in the ring have been judged, the judge will place the animal, give a thorough explanation and shake the showmen’s hands.

All of the preparation and showing can be demanding, especially for high school students.

“It is very challenging, getting up in the middle of the night, delivering pigs, then going to school the next morning,” Jeffiers said.

Both girls are involved in extracurricular activities in addition to 4-H and FFA, such as the volleyball team and Relay for Life.

There is no off season when raising animals—they still must be fed and cared for no matter the time of day, weather conditions or other activities happening.

“Rain, sleet, snow, below zero degrees, you have to work with your animals. You have to go to the barn and feed them. It’s your responsibility at the end of the day,” Browning said.

She explained that it is even sometimes difficult not to get attached.

Browning has had multiple producers from all over the state interested in buying her lambs and she even sold one in 2013 for $1,000 with half breeding rights. Her goal is for one of her lambs to win Grand Champion or Reserve Market Champion at the Kentucky State Fair.

Jeffiers won a Reserve Grand Champion gilt title in 2012 and a Grand Champion gilt title in 2013. One of her goals is to win a market show and participate in the Sale of Champions.

The 4-H and FFA Sale of Champions is the main goal when showing livestock. It is a prestigious event held on the last Thursday of the fair each year and is sponsored by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. Around 32 local and national companies take part in the bidding of the Grand and Reserve Champions of animals in their respective species. Sixty percent of each sale goes to the exhibitor, thirty percent goes to the class winners in the species and ten percent is divided equally between Kentucky FFA and Kentucky 4-H.

Raising and showing livestock is challenging, yet rewarding. Students gain valuable skills and knowledge, make connections in the industry as well as lifelong friends. Students also develop leadership potential and goals for the future.

“When people ask me what I want to do when I get older,” Browning said, “I kind of smile and say I would like to be Commissioner of Agriculture one day.”

Browning is running for a state office in Kentucky FFA this summer. She then plans to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall and major in Community Leadership and Development through the Department of Agriculture.

Jeffiers will be a sophomore at Spencer County High School in the fall and plans to continue her involvement in 4-H and FFA.

Agriculture is an important part of our state’s economy that some take for granted.

“Without it, you would be naked and hungry,” Browning reminded us, “so showing gives me an opportunity to advocate for agriculture.” Doing just that, she considers herself an “agvocate” and uses every opportunity to spread the word about its importance.

President and CEO of the Kentucky State Fair Board Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe could not agree more.

“Those of us in the agriculture field are very fortunate. Not only do we get to celebrate and honor the enduring tradition of our state’s first industry, we get to advocate and promote its future. Events like the Kentucky State Fair continue to be a public asset that contribute to development and awareness of agriculture in the state. Agriculture is a social institution and we have a great responsibility to uphold in continuing its presence at the Fair. The process of farmers passing down their life’s work to the next generation is so important to the future of Kentucky.”

The Kentucky State Fair values and advocates the hard work of the youth in 4-H and FFA. Whether it has been through a family-run organization for generations or a new interest sparked by a club at school, agriculture and livestock are the backbone of our society. Students demonstrate responsibility and take from these organizations many benefits that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

With dedicated youth like Darilyn Browning and Courtney Jeffiers, there is no doubt that the future of Kentucky agriculture is in great, experienced hands.

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