‘Learn by doing’: Fair animal contests test 4-H members’ skills

4-H member Angel Kidwell, 18, of Front Royal, is exhibiting lambs at this year's Warren County Fair. The fair is open through Sunday. Ashley Miller/For The Northern Virginia Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County Fair, which runs through Sunday, is the ultimate test of a 4-H member’s hard work, but according to Angel Kidwell, 18,  of Front Royal, the understanding of the 4-H’s is the ultimate test of their skills.

“The 4-H’s: head, heart, hands and health are part of the 4-H pledge we strive to live by,” Kidwell said.

According to the 4-H pledge, head is for clearer thinking, heart is for greater loyalty, hands for larger service and health for better living.

“At the end of the day, we want to be able to say we followed the pledge with the best of our abilities,” she added.

Kidwell’s 4-H journey began when she was 9 years old. She said it came naturally as her whole family had always been involved with 4-H. Over the years, she has raised and shown a  variety of animals that include pigs, steers, lambs, goats, chickens and rabbits. This year marks her senior and final 4-H year. Past titles include grand champion for chicken and rabbit along with breeding gill.

“I guess you could say I don’t know any differently because I was raised with the understanding of what the 4-H is,” Kidwell said. “Plus, 4-H has become more like my second extended family.”

While many of her competitors in this year’s fair are family members, Kidwell said she’s OK with it because she loves a friendly dose of competition.

“It really comes down to just having fun,” she said.

In her first few years of being a 4-H’er Kidwell admitted she had a difficult time grasping the fate of the animals at the end of the fair. The 4-H slogan, “learn by doing,” teaches children how to raise and care for an animal from birth to food, but most importantly how to let them go.

“I spent a lot of time with my first animals,” she said. “But when faced with the reality that they had to go to auction, I remembering it being difficult, but it was something I had to do.”

But Kidwell said with time, hard work and determination she was able to put those feelings aside and that allowed her to focus on her end goal: showmanship.

In her present role as a senior leader, Kidwell said she’s helping the next generation understand what it means to be a 4-H’er and the importance of showmanship. She said the responsibility can be tough at times, but she knows how important it is to help the children.

“I hope to one day see this barn full of 4-H’ers and their animals,” she said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment to spend as much time as we do with each animal and make it this far.”

Kidwell said she sees the younger children discouraged because their animals didn’t make weight. Her suggestion to them: “Keep trying, no matter the outcome.”

When Kidwell isn’t showing, she’s participating in the demolition derby with her brother, another long-standing family tradition.

“I’ve been coming to the fair since I was a baby,” she said. “It’s one of those things you look forward to each and every year.”