The 4-H fair season is a magical time when months-long and even yearlong efforts come to fruition. Projects are judged, resulting in big winners and smaller winners. There are really no losers, as 4-H is about learning new things, interacting with other kids and youth leaders, completing a project, and putting it out there to be critiqued.
Since 4‑H began more than 100 years ago in Clark County, Ohio, it has been opening the door for young people to learn leadership skills and how to connect to practical, hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom. Originally centered around agriculture, it has now become the nation’s largest youth development organization.
When the fair is over, participants take their projects home, along with their well-deserved bragging rights, backed up with ribbons, rosettes and trophies.
However, for 4-H market livestock, the final destination is the slaughterhouse. I recently came across one mother’s account of her son’s experience at a 4-H fair. It has gone viral on Facebook, drawing an almost 30,000 reactions.
Many said what a wonderful job her son did and how this is what the fair is all about. However, many others — more than expected — took great issue calling it sick, unnecessary and uncompassionate. Others said it was killing for palate pleasure, animal cruelty, and even worse, child abuse.
The author is Brittney Tullis Carpenter, who with her husband, Dillon, are raising their son Dalton in Colorado. I contacted her to ask if I could reprint her post, she responded yes, but only “as long as his story is completely truthful and is represented in the way I wrote it. We have had so much flack and hate.”
The post included a black-and-white photo of her son with a tear running down his face while holding his lamb on a halter. Following are portions of her Aug. 7 post. Read the entire post on Facebook.
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A pure and raw moment
Proud doesn’t even come close when I reflect on what I learned about our 8-year-old son this past week. Back in March he decided he wanted to do the Market lamb project for his first year in 4-H. We made sure that he understood that the end would result in one of his lambs most likely being in the sale at [the] fair and fulfilling its purpose as a market animal. He was set on the task at hand. He knew he would get attached to both ewe lambs, who he named Pork and Beans, and he knew where one would likely end up. He surprised us with his tenacity when it came to early-morning feedings before school and late nights nursing a sick one through pneumonia.
… I would catch him hugging and loving on them when he would have a quiet moment. There was no doubt that he loved them.
… Sale day came, and we found out that Beans made the cut. Beans and our boy posed for a picture for their potential buyers in front of a Douglas County back drop, then their auction number was painted on Beans’ back. At that point, tears started rolling down my son’s face. I hugged him and kissed his forehead. But, he was still set on what was to follow. That night, we watched him proudly walk her around the auction arena and sell her for a number beyond what any of us ever expected. The incredible thing about 4-H auctions is that buyers don’t pay just what the animal is worth, they exceed far beyond their market value because they believe in our children’s hard work and want to invest in them. He left that auction arena on cloud nine and so pumped for next year.
… Time came to take her out of the pen and lead her that direction. My heart ached as I watch my child say goodbye to his partner.
… These animals are destined for market. How incredible that they land in the hands of children who love them and give them the best care while they are here on this earth. I found myself in a strange place. I wanted to fix my son’s heartache, but at the same time I knew how important it was to follow through with the entire 4-H project. From start to finish. And even though this was tough, we had to allow him this experience. Sobbing, he loaded Beans on the truck.
… My son is my hero. He is bigger than I ever knew. My son ran the race and finished regardless of his feelings and emotions. He loved his lamb, but he knew what was important. He raised a great product through blood, sweat and tears, and he completed his project. He never asked to keep her. He never tried to quit. He gave it his all and succeeded. We are a family who loves to eat meat, and he wanted to contribute to that in his own way by raising a market animal. He will never forget Beans, but is ready to do it all again next year. This is what 4-H is all about. What extraordinary kids!