By its very definition, a 4-H market livestock project is terminal, ending within or at the end of a 4-H project year. Not every youth has the temperament to raise and sell a market animal, nor should they be expected to do so. There are many non-terminal project options for youth who are interested in raising livestock, including breeding projects, fiber animal projects, draft or pack animal projects, and self-determined projects. However, for youth who enroll in a market livestock project for the first time, it is essential for adults to prepare them for the fate of the project animal.
Are They Ready?
When youth express interest in enrolling in a market livestock project, leaders and parents must assess the suitability of the project to the child’s capabilities, resources, and living situation. They must also determine the youth’s capacity to handle the sale of the project animal and ability to handle this perceived loss.
Key questions to ask before enrolling youth in a market livestock project:
- Is the family able to afford the animal, its feeding, and care?
- Can the family handle the economic impact of the loss of the animal if it dies before the sale, does not meet weight requirements, or cannot be sold for other reasons?
- Will the animal have a safe place to be housed?
- Does the youth have enough time to care for and work with the animal?
- Is the youth able to be safe around the animal and vice versa?
- Will the youth have proper supervision and guidance from a knowledgeable adult?
- Does the youth understand basic concepts of quality assurance of human food products?
- Does the youth understand the project animal will be slaughtered and used for human food?
Although many youth have some regret and sadness at the conclusion of their market project (less so with age and experience), there is no reason the terminal nature of the project should take youth by surprise.
Simple, clear, and age-appropriate questions and instructions should be used in discussions with the youth. It may be helpful to have a general discussion about where meat comes from before specifically addressing the fate of the project animals. Discussion points could include:
- “You need to understand that if you want to have a market animal, at the end of the project it will be humanely killed and made into meat.”
- “Do you understand we won’t be bringing ‘Pork Chop’ home from the fair?”
- “At the end of the show, ‘Pork Chop’ will be sold and become meat for people to eat.”
Young children may not understand the terms “butchered,” “processed,” or “slaughtered;” however, they will understand the word “killed.” Youth who are upset by this discussion are not ready for a market project, and may indeed never be suited for one. This is fine, because there is a variety of 4-H projects suitable for every interest and ability.
First-time market project youth can also be confused by jackpot shows. Jackpot shows allow market animals to compete in market, fitting, and showmanship classes, and return home after the event. This can sometimes take place multiple times. Eventually there will be a terminal show for each jackpot animal, and the youth must be prepared for how they will feel when their animal doesn’t come home with them.
Occasionally, a family will decide to bring a market steer, barrow, or wether home and make it a family pet, but this should be agreed upon in advance. However, this decision should not be encouraged for a variety of reasons. If treated as pets, some market livestock can experience serious health issues as they age, such as obesity and urinary tract blockage. Also, when a market livestock project animal is properly fed, grown, finished, and sold, its job is done, and the youth producer’s job is done as well. The animal is ready to go to the next person in the food production cycle so that person can do his or her job, too, as shown in Figure 1.