Like many of us, I grew up learning about cattle through 4-H and FFA projects. My first experience was showing a feeder calf at the country fair, and that progressed to a herd of a dozen or more breeding pairs by the end of my secondary school education.
I remember learning many things during those formative years, many of which are those frequently cited as the reasons livestock exhibition is an important part of a rural upbringing: a strong work ethic, the importance of responsibility, etc., etc.
I daresay one of the biggest benefits to youth livestock projects is the teaching of good animal husbandry. Yes, I know that there are numerous things that contradict the usage of the phrase "good animal husbandry" in the context of the show cattle sport, but let's just pretend that all 4-H and FFA advisors do a wonderful job of teaching their students the proper way to rear, raise and handle beef cattle.
Among the important husbandry practices taught young exhibitors are the precepts of Beef Quality Assurance. At many (if not all) major shows and county fairs, BQA training is a prerequisite for junior show participation. Herein spawns my concern mentioned in the title of this post: are we keeping BQA training relevant for today's youth?
The origin of my concern was one young exhibitor's post on Facebook earlier this week. The 16-year-old from my home county posted something to the effect that BQA was boring, repetitive, been there, done that:
Quality assurance is a required meeting every year, same stuff, always boring, nothing new. I hate it. It's stupid.
Obviously names have been withheld to protect the innocent, or at least the brutally honest. "I hate it, it's stupid." That phrase really resonated with me as someone who thinks the BQA program and concept has paid the industry tremendous dividends on a few different fronts.
Without getting into the specifics of the BQA program itself, my question and concern is simply this: how can we keep a program of this importance relevant and noteworthy for a teenage audience not given to "wasting time" with boring meetings? On one hand, if we assume that the average showman at the county fair has little, if any connection to commercial-scale livestock production, it is imperative that we help them connect the dots as to why BQA is important to them in the first place.
I also presume that BQA trainers are themselves volunteers under the auspices of county fair boards, Extension offices or FFA programs, so therein is one opportunity/challenge... Ensuring that "train the trainer" type events convey the importance of keeping the program fresh, relevant, and meaningful.
Livestock exhibition holds a certain romance for many of us who grew up rinsing steers and sleeping in show barns - we have a responsibility to the young 4-H and FFA members and the industry to be sure the experience still adds value to all involved.