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4-H livestock program teaches life skills that go far beyond the farm

The young 4-H members whose poultry, rabbits, swine, horses, dogs and cattle take center stage at the annual Erie County Fair become experts in handling, feeding, exercising, grooming and showing their animals.

What you don't see are the critical, lifelong skills these young people also develop in time management, financial literacy, marketing and community service.

Yet these skills are part of the lessons these young people from 5 to 18 develop as they participate in the livestock programs of 4-H, the youth development program of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County.

"Our goal in 4-H is to give youth, at a young age, the skills they are going to need to become productive adults," said Tammi Kron, 4-H livestock educator. "I like to call 4-H the A to Z program; not only do we do livestock programs, but in the youth development program they learn about electrical, woodworking, sewing, cooking and art, life skills of every kind."

The time management skills come naturally.

Gwyneth Hansen of Springville, 17, with Mister P, a Charolais Angus, on the final day at Erie County Fair. She has raised steers for three years and helped her dad with dairy cattle before that. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

"Somehow we manage," said Logan Gemza, who at 12 is a four-year veteran of the 4-H livestock program.

Logan, whose family operates the Garden of Eden Cattle Co. in North Collins, helped his older brother Tyler the first year, and has raised his own cattle for the past three. He must care for his animals both before and after school, then finish his homework before he has any time to relax or see friends.

"I can fit it all in," he said.

Gwyneth Hansen, 17, of Springville, who has raised steers for three years and helped her father with dairy cattle before that, said, "It's easier for me to manage my time because I figured out how to over the years."

A new wrinkle for some of the programs this year was a requirement that youngsters keep their records in the form of checking and savings accounts, with all expenditures noted.

"They all did a phenomenal job," said Kron, including one 13-year-old who overdrew his account. When she asked what he had learned, he said, "I can't spend more than I have in my checking account."

"I enjoyed doing the financial records, because it helped me to see how much we actually spent," said Gwyneth.

Aidan Dobson , 13, of Hamburg and his blue ribbon-winning market lamb Pisces, a Dorset Cross Sheep, on the final day at Erie County Fair. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Aidan Dobson, 13, of Hamburg, found the financial record-keeping just as challenging as the hands-on work with his lamb, Pisces, who collected several blue ribbons. He said he did the record-keeping "all the time, for everything." After just two years in the 4-H program, Aidan won Champion Novice Sheep Showman.

The youngsters also learned marketing skills, speaking with the public about their animals and inviting potential bidders to attend the annual auction.

The auction, and the Food Bank of Western New York, received support from the fair's vendors and carnival and concession operators, said Jessica Underberg, CEO of the fair and a former 4-H member.

Those businesses contributed $17,300, which was used to raise every auction animal's price to at least $3 a pound and to purchase four steers, which the fair will pay to process. The 2,600 pounds of beef will be be donated to the Food Bank.

A food drive on opening day collected 53,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank, and 4-H youngsters raised and donated 19 turkeys and 52 chickens to the Food Bank as their community service project, said Kron.

Underberg said, "For me the really neat part is that these concessionaires and vendors and the carnival felt moved enough to support our youth, to support agriculture and to support the Food Bank of our community. That's huge to me."

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