Workshops offer a window into livestock business

Certification for youth livestock participants is growing in the state of Virginia.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension began offering certification through Youth Meat Quality Assurance Workshops last year.

Carol Nansel, an extension agent for 4-H youth, said the program began on the state level, with the 4-H and Future Farmers of America requiring the certification for participants to show livestock at the State Fair of Virginia.

“Our local livestock committee talked about it … and this year, we made it mandatory for our local kids as well,” Nansel said.

Cory Childs, agriculture and natural resources extension agent, said kids participating in the workshops are ambassadors who will show others how complicated the world of livestock and agriculture can be.

“A lot of people come to the fairs or shows or different events, and they don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to livestock in any other way,” he said.

The extension office organized eight local workshops for youth participants this year, with counties of Shenandoah, Warren and Clarke making the certifications mandatory.

The certifications are still voluntary for Page and Frederick counties.

Childs said they offer 12 modules in the workshops, covering a wide variety of topics centered on animal care. One of the chief focuses of this year’s workshops was using antibiotics in a responsible way, he noted.

“We want to make sure that they become familiar with the proper use of antibiotics, if they are going to have to administer them in their animals,” Childs said.

This includes teaching kids how to tracking antibiotics and medication that they administer in their livestock – which entails maintaining records, needle use and a whole host of other factors.

Childs said they are also looking to reinforce the fact that the world they are operating in is a business.

“Every time that you make a decision to do something, it can impact the bottom line of that business,” he said.

Childs said that 286 kids completed the workshops this past year, which he added is around two-thirds of the total participants within the program.

What the participants take away from the workshops can also vary by age and experience.

“Normally, when people walk out of the program, they’re glad they were there,” Childs said. “Everybody learns something that maybe they didn’t learn before.”

Older participants, Childs added, find that certain aspects of the business get reinforced through the workshops.

While only the state fair requires certification at the moment, Childs said he believes the program will expand and become mandatory across all counties in the future.

“As long as we can see growth in the kids, and we can continue to have positive responses … it’s going to continue to grow,” Childs said.

Childs said, “It is high-quality information and it’s something the kids, if they are going to be producing livestock … they need to be able to do it humanely and effectively.”

Childs also said that the country’s growing interest in where food is coming from will also play a role in the program’s expansion.

“We want people to have a better understanding of livestock production, and how it’s done and how the industry proceeds,” he said, noting that most of the kids participating do not pursue livestock as a career.

“A lot of them do it now, they enjoy it … they do it because they develop life-long friendships and those types of things,” Childs said. “What we want is for them to be agriculture advocates.”

The hope, Childs said, is for this education will lead to people having “a better understanding of what agriculture is all about.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com