Livestock and Bonds

Livestock programs help youth make lifelong connections

Youth livestock programs, whether through 4-H or FFA, teach young people to appreciate agriculture by caring for animals. They also teach life lessons.

“The Georgia 4-H Livestock Program is a footprint for learning to be successful in an endeavor from the ground up. Dr. Dan Daniel said the animal is the device used to get the child through the gate to opportunities,” said Heather Shultz (MAL - Agricultural Leadership, ’10), University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H livestock programs specialist.

Shultz grew up in Manteca, California, where she showed cattle through 4-H and FFA. She was part of an FFA team that led to her livestock judging at the junior college and collegiate levels. Now, Shultz’s 11-year-old daughter is in her third year of showing livestock.

“In the summer and during school breaks, she gets up and feeds and cares for her animal. She rinses and works her heifers so their hair will grow,” she said. “During school, as parents, we help with the bare necessities, but a lot of the work is done on the weekends. She has to make sure their nutrition is good, keep accurate records, identify when their next shots should come and keep them healthy.”

Livestock program alumni seem to agree that, through these programs, they learned to accept defeat, make improvements and try again. “Looking back, I learned way more from losing than I ever did from winning,” said Chris Campbell (BSA – Agribusiness, ’14; MAL – Agricultural Leadership, ’16), now a UGA Extension 4-H agent in Carroll County. “Livestock showing and judging programs teach students that, if they don’t succeed the first time, there is room for improvement and a reason for the loss.”

Participants also learn to make quick decisions, according to Grady County UGA Extension Coordinator Deron Rehberg (BSA – Animal Science, ’88; MAL – Agricultural Leadership, ’07). “In livestock judging, you learn decision-making skills, how to think on your feet and to be able to back up your thinking with sound reasoning,” Rehberg said. “Giving oral reasons while judging also helps young people perfect their public speaking skills.”

Growing up in the Thomas County, Georgia, 4-H program, Rehberg showed steers and heifers at the local, district and state levels and exhibited the State Reserve Champion steer his senior year. As a member of the judging team, he traveled to national competitions. The 4-H livestock program and Project Achievement introduced Rehberg to UGA animal science professors. “So, it just made sense to go to UGA and join the UGA Livestock Judging Team,” he said.

By middle school, Caroline (Black) Lewallen’s (BSA – Agricultural Education, ’11) favorite part of showing animals was the friends she made around the state, many of whom she is still in touch with.

“When I graduated from high school and moved from Commerce, (Georgia), to Tifton, (Georgia), and then to Athens, (Georgia), I didn’t have to worry about making friends because most of my friends at ABAC (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College) and UGA I had known for years,” she said.

She remembers livestock showing with her brother, Ward Black (BSA – Agricultural and Applied Economics, ’09; MS – Agricultural and Applied Economics, ’11), as family time.

“My brother and I showed our first animals the same year — 1998. It quickly became our family’s way to spend time together, and that story stayed true the entire time we were showing cattle,” said Lewallen, now the agritourism and marketing coordinator at Jaemor Farms in Alto, Georgia. “Before we knew it, our cattle show friends also became ‘family.’ Without the help of the Shirley and Merk families in Jackson County, (Georgia), we would have never had this opportunity. Stone Shirley (BSA – Animal Science, ’78) and his brother, Mark (BSA – Animal Science, ’78), our Extension 4-H agent, helped us select our first show animals out of my parents’ pastures, and we were off to the races.”

Lewallen hasn’t forgotten the hard work that is a part of taking care of livestock. “I learned to never quit until the job was done and I carried that same work ethic over into my career,” she said. “I also think this skill set teaches you to demand the best quality you or someone else can provide. Dirty water buckets weren’t good enough then, and they aren’t now.”

Associate Dean for UGA Extension Laura Perry Johnson (BSA – Animal Science, ’87; MS – Animal Science, ’89; Ph.D. – Animal and Dairy Science, ’93) was also an active 4-H’er who showed cattle, and it was no surprise that she enrolled at UGA as an animal science major. The skills she picked up showing cattle still serve her today.

“It’s because of my meat- and livestock-judging background that I’m in the career I chose,” she said. “Livestock judging programs teach youth how to make sound decisions, and they have to defend their decisions with clear communication. It also teaches teamwork skills that translate to the workplace. Raising, caring for and exhibiting livestock gives young people the opportunity to learn so many life skills, including responsibility, work ethic, sportsmanship and compassion.”

By Sharon Dowdy Cruse


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tours the livestock arenas and helps judge the goat and cattle show during the Georgia State Fair at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, Georgia, on Oct. 6.

 Keely Shultz followed her mother’s footsteps into the livestock judging arena. Shultz is the 11 year-old daughter of UGA Extension 4-H Livestock Programs Specialist Heather Shultz. Inset images: Lindsey (Bell) Hayes, now the Decatur County UGA Extension coordinator and 4-H agent, is pictured with livestock show judge Garry Childs at the Swine Time Festival around 1988. Laura Perry Johnson went from cattle shows to running the show as the current associate dean for UGA Extension. As a high school senior, then-Decatur County 4-H’er Kameron Landeen, now an AmeriCorps community service specialist with Decatur County Extension, showed “Bullet,” a crossbred barrow that won Reserve Champion Market Barrow in the state livestock show.