By Katerina Sharp, 4-H Youth Development Intern, Ohio State University
Thousands flock to county fairs and the Ohio State Fair each summer, and many of these are Ohio 4-H members who come to show their livestock and non-livestock projects. However, the large number of livestock and non-livestock projects that can be seen at the Ohio State Fair each year is only a small fraction of the total number of projects our members take throughout the state. Whether competing at the county or state level, it is hard to appreciate the vast number of projects taken by 4-H members.
In 2017, the most popular 4-H project was market hogs, with 11,679 total projects taken.
“Growing up on a hog farm and taking hog projects during my 4-H career, I’ve watched the number of youth taking hog projects grow and grow,” said Kiersten Heckel, 4-H educator in Tuscarawas County.
One reason for the popularity is the length of a hog project, which is only 3-4-months. “It’s not nearly the commitment of a steer project, but youth still have their hogs longer than a small animal project,” said Heckel. “Another reason is that most county fair sales are good enough to offset the total cost of the hog project and allow kids to make money.”
Rabbits followed hogs as the second most popular project in 2017. Between market and breeding rabbits, there were 11,564 rabbit projects. Rabbit projects tend to be popular because they don’t need a lot of space, are a short-term project and don’t have to require a large financial investment. Whether members live in town or in a rural area, rabbits are a good option.
Poultry projects are particularly interesting due to the seemingly endless number of options the project presents. Whether members are interested in ducks, turkeys, geese, chickens, or guinea fowl, there is a place to show them in 4-H. In 2017, there were 10,880 poultry projects.
“The smaller size of the animal allows it to be raised in a child’s backyard. This and the smaller duration of time to raise the birds helps make poultry projects so popular,” said Betty Wingerter, 4-H educator in Montgomery County. Some of these breeds can be seen in videos produced by Ohio 4-H and the American Poultry Association at ohio4h.org/poultrybreeds.
While many of the most popular livestock projects have been around for a long time, a project that has more recently hit the red carpet are goats. Although there used to be only a few at the fair, now there are so many goat projects taken each year that county fairs are struggling to fit them all in. In 2017, there were 9,884 goat projects.
“Goats are a great entry level project into livestock,” said Tracy Winters, 4-H educator in Gallia County. “Personally, I think goats have the most personality and they relate to kids on a different level than other livestock might. Goat projects, like most of the animal projects, are set up to teach responsibility, proper animal husbandry, nutrition and more. On a deeper level, I think 4-H members learn to care for and bond with their animals. I’ve seen goats bring a shy child out of their shell as they tell me all about their goat. I’ve seen a child with ADHD sit for hours and pet, brush and care for their goat. My own son, who is dyslexic, found success in showing his animal projects. This led to more confidence and a better understanding about how he learns new information, which in turn improved his success in the classroom and his self-esteem.”
In addition to the many livestock projects taken each year, many 4-H members are active in non-livestock projects. Ohio 4-H currently offers 140 non-livestock projects, and two of the most popular ones are Focus on Photography and Get Started in Art.
“Get Started in Art allows youth to be creative and try a variety of different art methods that interest them,” said Rebecca Supinger, 4-H educator in Greene County. “This project is great because youth can expand and learn art techniques based on what they want to do. There is not a right or wrong way to approach this project. It is one of my favorites to look at what youth made and the creativity of the art work!”
A new non-livestock projects this year is Your Thoughts Matter, which provides youth with valuable knowledge about mental health as a part of their overall well-being.
“In 4-H, youth learn a lot about the importance of health: eating healthy foods, exercising, making healthy decisions, and fostering healthy relationships with others,” said Amanda Raines, 4-H educator from Hardin County. “Your Thoughts Matter addresses an important component of health education that is often overlooked or deemed too difficult to discuss. My hope is this project will teach our youth that mental health problems are real health issues that affect a huge portion of our population and can have a severe impact on a person’s life. Our youth are eager to learn and make their 4-H projects useful, and I believe this project meets that need.”
To learn more about the many project opportunities Ohio 4-H offers, visit projectcentral.ohio4h.org.