11/10/2012 10:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
HALIFAX, Pa. — Life has been a whirlwind of practice, study sessions and field trips for the four members of the Dauphin County 4-H Livestock Stockman’s Team since they discovered they would be representing Pennsylvania at the National 4-H Stockman’s contest this week.
Though preparing for this contest is serious work, this group of 4-H’ers has figured out how to balance fun with the extensive knowledge needed for the national contest.
To learn facts, the team uses hand gestures, silly sayings, acronyms and other creative ideas. And between marathon-like practices, they love to share jokes and they make sure to have a good time.
Lane Reigle of Middletown, Pa., Eric Shoop of Dalmatia, Pa., Emmett Fox of Duncannon, Pa., and Rebecca Foulke of Elizabethtown, Pa., decided to form a stockman’s team after an email request went out to the youth in the Upper and Lower Dauphin County 4-H Livestock Clubs searching for team members.
The group has experience with a wide variety of livestock, but together they show each of the species that will be a part of the contest. The contest covers a broad range of topics centered around beef cattle, goats, sheep and swine. They learn critical thinking, leadership and decision making. Because the contest is timed, the team members have to be able to analyze a problem quickly and react correctly to it.
“We have gained a greater understanding in the management of the livestock industry,” said Eric, who plans a career in the industry.
These 4-H’ers admit they love to a enjoy a joke and said it’s that “fun” attitude that has helped with different elements of the contest.
Coaches Carol Shoop and Cindy Foulke said coming up with “silly” ways to remember things helps the team members recall key facts such as the different gestation times for the four species, breed characteristics and management techniques.
For example, the difference between three of the white-skinned pig breeds is the placement of their ears. Rebecca demonstrated how she remembers by sticking her hands up by her ears starting with her hands pointing straight up, then horizontal and then downward, saying the breed name as she goes.
They have a diagram of all the meat cuts with velcro tabs to play “pin the name on the meat cut.”
Eric said species that end in “shire” usually come from England. He also said there is no easy way to remember the different skills except to practice and learn.
The Dauphin County 4-H team was the top-placing Pennsylvania team at the Keystone International Livestock Exposition (KILE) in October. It placed second to a 4-H team from North Carolina. Eric was the Keystone Junior Stockman of the Year, or the highest scoring individual in the contest.
The coaches discovered they were eligible to advance to the national contest when York County 4-H Extension Educator and contest organizer Linda Spahr asked if the team was planning to compete. Since Oct. 9, “it’s been busy,” said Rebecca. “We have been (practicing) as much as we can get in.”
The team has been meeting once, if not twice a week, to prepare. Practices last between four and eight hours. The team even met on Oct. 28, as Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast.
Eric said many practices have been centered around when they could meet with experts. They met with a wool grader, visited a butcher shop and studied meat grading.
Last Sunday, they met at the Dauphin County Agricultural Center for one last practice before the county 4-H awards banquet. That night’s topic was meat judging.
The team admits that the meats section is their toughest category. At the contest, they will have to identify the species, the primal cut or the section of the animal the cut comes from. Then, the trickier part, they will have to identify the retail cut or the cut they will find in the meat case.
Two of the challenges are that some of the cuts have regional names and several of the cuts are very similar. At the national contest, they will have to grade some of the entries.
At the end of October, for grading training, they met with Lancaster County Livestock Educator Chet Hughes at Smucker’s Meats in Mount Joy, Pa.
Cindy said while there are many butcher shops in the area, there are few that are grading meat for retail sale.
At another practice, Cindy, who is a large animal veterinarian, walked the kids through the supplies in her vet truck as a way to talk about the different animal health tools and medicine issues.
“That was a lot of stuff,” Emmett said.
He was amazed at the volume of things that could be found in the back of a vet’s pickup truck.
The team has collected a large variety of feedstuffs for practice. They have to identify each feed, how it fits into the nutrition of the animal — fat, protein, mineral or carbohydrate — know how it functions in an animal as well as issues such as toxicity.
In between practices, they have had to fundraise for their trip as well, sending out appeal letters and contacting supporters for financial assistance.
And, as they travel to Louisville, Ky., the team will be studying current livestock issues.
Lane said he’s always amazed at how little the public knows about farming. Because of his involvement with 4-H livestock, he was asked to speak to his high school ecology and environment class. He started the class talk by asking his classmates if they thought calves, lambs and baby pigs were cute. Then he asked if they realized those baby animals were the ones that grew up into the livestock that were harvested for meat. Many classmates did not connect these animals to what happens in agriculture.
Eric said he’s amazed at the discussion happening regarding animal housing systems.
The team is excited to get to the contest. None of the members have ever been to Louisville before. Besides the contest, they are looking forward to meeting 4-H’ers from other states and seeing some of the nation’s best livestock.
However, no matter the outcome, the team expects they will have a fun time — and there will be plenty of jokes and silly stories along the way.