Although 4-H began more than a century ago with a focus on animals and has now spread its wings greatly, animals remain a central part of the program.
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a six-part series focusing on the Wayne County 4-H program.
— Although 4-H began more than a century ago with a focus on animals and has now spread its wings greatly, animals remain a central part of the program.
In Wayne County, animals are a very major component of the 4-H program.
Last year, there were 234 Wayne County 4-H members who participated in market animal projects. Those include hogs, lambs, beef steer and meat goats, said Ed Pruss, Wayne County Cooperative Extension Agent.
Those are the four species of market animals that are raised and shown by the county members.
Pruss said the projects for 2013 have already started. In fact, it began last November with the beef steer program at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. The steer are taken to the fairgrounds where they are weighted and tagged in three places.
Pruss said the animals are then checked out by a veterinarian because "we want to keep these animals healthy."
From there, the real work begins for the 4-H members, who are responsible for every aspect of raising the animals until they are shown at the county fair.
That includes feeding, grooming, general health and a lot of record keeping. Those records include feed, hay, salt, minerals and everything else involved with the animals.
The culmination of this work happens at the Wayne County Fair with the judging and the annual livestock auction.
In the beef category, for instance, there are nine classes which are judged. The classes are based on weight.
As for the judging, Pruss said the judges "look for market quality."
That includes the size of loins, ribs, hind quarters and all parts of the animal.
"It is using the whole animal," said Pruss.
Champions are awarded in each division and then a grand champion is named.
The animals then go to the actual livestock auction where they are purchased by local individuals and businesses.
That's where things can get emotional.
Pruss said leaders stress to the members that raising market livestock is a "terminal project" and that the animals "go into the food chain."
He says they tell members that once an animal "is in the project, there is a separation."
"The first couple of steers, it was really hard," said Jessica Scull, 4-H Extension Agent in charge of the program in the county. "But then it gets easier."
Pruss said the concept is to "teach life skills" to the 4-H members.
That includes the business part of raising an animal.
Members receive money at the auction and Pruss said some of them use it to invest in their next project while others may save it toward a college fund.
The money involved with the livestock auction is quite impressive.
Since 2004, local buyers have spent $2,587,790 purchasing market animals at the Wayne County Junior 4-H Livestock Sale.
During that time, the average yearly number of buyers has been 210.
Last year, there were 63.5 tons of livestock sold at the sale. Here's a breakdown by species, number of animals, gross dollars and liveweight:
• Market hogs, 223, $147,849, 64,456 pounds.
• Market lambs, 50, $19,531, 7,196 pounds.
• Market beef steers, 41, $80,098, 50,495 pounds.
• Market goats, 55, $16,893, 5,574 pounds.
That totals 368 head sold for $264,893 and 127,721 pounds.
For Pruss, none of this would be possible without the participation of local businesses, many who have supported the sale for decades.
"The main driving force is the local businesses who have supported these kids," said Pruss. "It is outstanding."
Pruss said members can also participate in a program for the Pennsylvania Livestock Show, which is basically the state fair.
That means raising a separate animal dedicated to the show in Harrisburg.
"The competition is a lot keener because there are people from all over the state and FFA members, too," said Pruss. "But there can be some pretty good rewards."
There are also non-farm animals involved in the 4-H program. Those are rabbits, cats and dogs.
For those members who do not live on a farm, these categories are attractive, said Scull.
In some cases, members don't even have to raise the animals but can do projects which teach them about the specific animals.
There are also dairy projects for 4-H members.
Pruss said those are generally multi-year projects and involve all aspects of the dairy business.
Another popular aspect of 4-H is the horse projects. Currently, 40 to 50 members are doing horse projects, said Scull.
It's the same concept as the market animals where members have the responsibility of raising the horses. However, one major difference is the fact there is a lot more involved.
Currently, horse members have opportunities to participate in the county, district, regional and state shows. That involves transportation of the animals and much more.
Members do have to keep all of the same kinds of records, including feeding, riding, grooming and training times.
Pruss pointed out there are many other expenses, as well, including saddles, boots and all types of accessories.
Pruss also emphasized there is a scholarship program for eligible seniors which is funded through the livestock sale.
Each year, some businesses participate in a "buy back" program. The way it works is the business purchases the animal but then donates it back. It is then sold and the money goes into the scholarship program.
Pruss said more than $300,000 has been given out in scholarships, most of them in the $1,200 to $1,500 range.
"It is a reward for the kids for their years in 4-H," said Pruss. "And I can't emphasize enough the local people have been very, very supportive of the program."
The 4-H program is operated by Penn State Extension through the county extension offices throughout the state.
Scull is making an effort to get more people involved in the program and part of that is an upcoming open house.
The event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Penn State Extension Office located in the Park Street Complex in Honesdale.
The theme is "4-H ... Something for everyone."
That, said Scull, is something many people don't realize. From traditional animal projects to rocketry to cooking, the variety of projects is almost endless.
At the open house, people will be able to speak with project experts, there will be projects on display, games will be played, there will be snacks and more.
Persons age 5-18 can join 4-H and that information will be available at the open house. Currently, there are 18 4-H clubs throughout Wayne County, all led by highly trained and full screened adult leaders.
If you would like more information about 4-H,. contact Scull at 253-5970, ext. 4110 or visit extension.psu.edu.