Earlier this summer, I sat in on a speech contest … at a cattle show, of all places. Turns out, that’s the way of youth livestock shows these days, where kids compete in public speaking, livestock judging, photography, skillathons, grilling contests, advertising design competitions and more, all in an effort to develop skills in young people that will help them better their industry — and themselves.
At the Simmental shows our family goes to, kids have to participate in several contests in order to compete in the cattle show. That means an extemporaneous speech, cattlemen’s quiz, sales talk, livestock judging and more.
To note: Kids are getting up every morning, caring for animals, cleaning themselves up and heading off to give a speech on dystocia in beef cattle. Holy cow.
Take the extemporaneous speaking I got to hear. Kids drew a topic on anything from bull selection to heat stress to grass-fed beef, studied materials for 30 minutes, and walked in to talk about it for three to seven minutes.
For the record, you couldn’t have paid me to do that when I was 10 years old. But these kids do it like champions.
Judges praise and guide, help out when the going gets rough, encourage for the next time around.
One young woman came in with a colorful anecdotal lead, great speech, nailed it. A boy came in, struggled to find the word that was just in his head a second ago, and wound up in tears. Another little girl told a great story that had nothing to do with her topic – but delivered it with total passion and conviction.
One little guy gave a stone-faced speech, and when he got to the end and looked like he could either cry or throw up, I asked him what he was looking forward to that week. He didn’t miss a beat.
I’m pretty sure he beat his brother in a class so, you know, done.
Here’s the thing: The personal development that’s happening at these livestock shows is one of the best things going for young people in agriculture today. For sure, everyone wants to win in the ring. But these groups are broadening the focus to outside the ring, forcing kids to look at the industry — to learn about grass-fed beef and reproduction and swine health and animal welfare and more.
It’s way beyond the ring. And it’s way better for kids.
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