Young people can really benefit from a connection with livestock through FFA and 4-H.

Livestock 101 introducing new youth to the show ring

By Matt Reese

Young people love to connect with animals though agriculture, which is proven true time and again with a visit to a county fair. Though the show ring may be full, the exhibitors are typically only a very small representation of the young people in the community. Many young people do not have the ability to take animals to the fair for a host of reasons, but that does not mean they have no interest. 

With this in mind, the 2021 Madison County Fair will have their first ever Livestock 101 show on July 16. Participation is free for those 17 and under to exhibit a livestock project. Each participant may select the species/project of their choice. Madison County youth exhibitors representing each species area will serve as coaches, interacting with participants and providing guidance before and during the show.

“I am looking forward to this. It gives younger people who are not in 4-H the opportunity to get to show livestock at the county fair,” said Cade Smith, 18, from Madison County, who will be helping with Livestock 101 through his poultry and alpaca projects. “I am really excited to work with other young people who could potentially show their own animals in the future. It grows our community and county exhibitors.”

Smith welcomes the chance to be a mentor. 

“I love working with other kids and teaching them new things about livestock,” he said. “I assist with a couple family friends with their poultry projects. I also house alpacas for other people to take to the fair. I love to help whenever help is needed. This is a good thing because it gives those young people an opportunity to show livestock if they are not able to. It gets these kids excited to show animals at the fair. It helps them find what they’ll enjoy showing and what they’ll become passionate about.”

The inspiration for the unique idea behind Livestock 101 came from a surprising source, said Paul Gross, president of the Madison County Ag Society.

“I am in the senior living business. I have some assisted living facilities. I was talking with a resident in her 90s. I try to figure out what makes each of those individuals tick. They all have really storied careers in some capacity or another. This lady in her 90s was, let’s say, unenthused to be at my senior living facility. I asked her what she was really good at. She said, ‘What I’m really good at is clipping goats.’ That is about the last thing I expected to hear. I said, ‘Really? Have you ever shown goats at the fair?’ She said, ‘Have I ever shown at the fair? I’ve had 28 state fair champions and I’ve shown all over the United States.’ 

“I asked if her family was in the goat business. She said, ‘No not at all.’ She used to be a city kid but there was a program in Union County back in the 1950s and if you wanted to show at the fair the goat association gave you a free goat. She said, ‘Me and my sister went down and picked up a goat and we have been showing ever since.’ That was really the inspiration for me to try to replicate that in our own way in Madison County. I thought it was a great concept so we took it and ran with it.”

Gross was not sure what to expect when he brought up the idea with the Ag Society, but was really pleased with the response.

“In my business career I always say that none of us are as smart as all of us. This is a great tribute to that saying. Key leaders and others interested in the different species got enthused by it. They thought the 4-H members would welcome it and everybody wants to grow the numbers inside the program. I think this is going to do just that. It was a terrific collaboration within the county,” Gross said. “It’s a program designed to help kids who maybe live in the city or don’t have the ability to keep an animal at home to still participate in the county fair through a process where they are paired up with 4-H or FFA member that is showing at the fair. Those 4-H and FFA members mentor the novice individual and teach them how to show. Then they actually go in and show that alpaca, horse, steer, pig, goat, lamb, poultry, or rabbit. They get an opportunity to show and compete, complete with ribbons and prizes and things of that nature. It is open to all youth 17 and under — they do not have to be a resident of Madison County.”

Sign-ups go right up until the show but the hope is most participants will sign up by July 1 to make sure there are enough prizes. 

“We are going to provide a shirt for all of the kids that are showing. We are hoping everyone will sign up by July 1 but we are not really setting a deadline because we want as many kids to participate as possible,” Gross said. “If they don’t sign up early they may not get the t-shirt at the show.” 

These shows will include a regular judge and some additional help from a celebrity judge.

“We will bring in an outside expert and we will also have a special dignitary there as well to encourage the kids. Each ring will have a designated judge,” Gross said. “All of our junior show activities will have already taken place. This will be separate show, not a part of the junior show, but each species will have its own show and its own judge.”

The plan is for Livestock 101 to provide new opportunities for young people to get involved with showing livestock and offer leadership opportunities for those with experience in the show ring.

“I am equally excited about getting our current 4-Hers in a position to develop their leadership skills as I am getting the other kids introduced to the program. Anyone who has been a part of 4-H or FFA understands how it altered most of our lives in a positive or meaningful way. We have an opportunity to make it a better experience as well for our current 4-Hers with this,” Gross said. “Hopefully we can introduce new kids to the program that will show at the fair with their own projects in years to come.” 

For more information or to register for Livestock 101, visit

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