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Once in a while someone will ask me why 4-H and FFA place emphasis on learning to judge animals. We don’t really, we teach how to make evaluative decisions and defend those decisions.

Livestock judging is a simple and effective manner in which to teach youth how to effectively compare a somewhat similar set of elements by using either a provided or personally developed set of criteria. It does not really matter whether we use animals, credit cards, pillows or political candidates. First we discuss and express a set evaluation criteria to use as a pattern and then we let youth practice applying that criteria to some “samples.” Over the years I have had youth evaluate a set of five pickups in the parking lot, four credit card offers, and a number of other “elements” to get the evaluative format set in their heads.

Once they can make an evaluative decision using criteria we ask them to stand in front of a judge and deliver a set of “reasons” which explain why they made decisions, what criteria they used and how they came to a set of priorities.

Granted our youth take pride in their knowledge of livestock, but their real pride is in their ability to use their knowledge to make informed decisions and then defend their decision. We who work in 4-H and Future Farmers of America fields feel this is the core development we are looking for.

In reality we believe this type of training helps our youth have an edge on making healthy and wise decisions about actions, education, behaviors, honesty and life in general. Young people who have been participates in these two programs have some of the highest completion rates for advanced education and some of the lowest arrest rates in their life. There is also a high correlation between these two programs and life-long civic leadership roles.

Although we feel that these programs help them develop in a positive manner it should also be said that the families and community support they receive to participate has a large part of it also.

In a similar manner many of our youth get involved in both impromptu and prepared presentations within the programs. It gives them an edge in presenting their viewpoints and being able to communicate effectively as they go through life.

The 4-H and FFA programs are less about cows and cookies and more about learning to make good decisions, learning how to communicate effectively, practicing respect for others, learning to engage with new people and opportunities and finally recognizing self-worth as you grow.

In those respects 4-H and FFA are more appropriate now than they have ever been. Just ask John Mellencamp, Jennifer Nettles, and others you can review at and

One out of every seven adults is in the group. I am proud to be an alumni of both groups, the Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Wyoming Emergency Service Association, Boy Scouts and a number of other groups. If you want your youth to learn decision making that lasts for a lifetime, give us a call.

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