(08/17/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — Children across Louisiana are returning to the classroom this month. So are some LSU AgCenter agents — but instead of heading back to school in the traditional sense, they are gathering for training sessions across the state to sharpen their skills so they can better assist 4-H’ers with livestock projects in the coming academic year.
The first of four livestock training sessions for agents was held Aug. 16 on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. There, new and seasoned agents alike heard from AgCenter experts on the ins and outs of livestock show rules, some basics on animal health and how best to prepare youth for contests. They also spent time in a barn at the Parker Coliseum with three Louisiana 4-H Livestock Ambassadors learning about how they care for their animals.
“Livestock is just one of the many projects that we utilize in 4-H to teach life skills,” said Hannah Devall, animal science and agricultural literacy and awareness specialist with Louisiana 4-H. “It’s important for agents to understand the different concepts that are utilized throughout the program as well as have hands-on knowledge.”
AgCenter 4-H and agriculture and natural resources agents help students prepare to exhibit cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits in parish fairs in the fall as well as in parish and district shows that typically take place in January. These events funnel contestants to the statewide LSU AgCenter Livestock Show in February. Those showing rabbits compete in a separate state-level event in the spring.
While some agents grew up raising or showing livestock themselves, others have no background in animal science.
“We put these trainings together to educate them on all these different aspects related to the livestock program so they can bring this back to their parishes,” said Tyler Braud, an instructor and animal science specialist with the AgCenter School of Animal Sciences and Louisiana 4-H.
Among their many duties, agents help 4-H members get ready for their contests through club meetings, workshops, home visits and other avenues. There are many regulations and deadlines to keep up with, and 4-H’ers need consistent guidance as they work to master the wide range of skills necessary in the show ring.
“Our exhibitors are always in some phase of preparation,” Braud said.
Just how much preparation is required depends on the species.
Cattle represent a longer-term project, with animals generally purchased in the spring to be shown at events in the first part of the following year. Market pigs that will be exhibited this winter are being born right now; contestants typically like to show animals that are about 6 months old. For poultry contests, which are popular with younger 4-H’ers who are new to the world of exhibiting livestock, animals are not purchased until just a few weeks before district and state shows.
Youth can enter market or breeding animal contests in which animals are judged for their physical characteristics. They also have the opportunity to participate in showmanship events that emphasize how contestants present themselves in the show ring and their knowledge of animal science.
Which species an agent deals with and which types of events they need to help students prepare for can vary widely from parish to parish.
“4-H reaches kids that are from urban, suburban and rural areas, so their projects might look a little bit different,” Devall said.
During a presentation at the meeting, Braud reminded the agents of the many responsibilities that come with their job. While he was an extension agent in Mississippi earlier in his career, he recalled, 4-H members often would call him first when they had concerns about their animals.
“They seek the extension service for guidance,” he said, adding that agents can point 4-H’ers and their families to resources where they can get help.
Agents also are in a position to encourage youth and leverage their livestock projects to teach them valuable life lessons like responsibility and self confidence.
“It was the guidance of my agents when I was in high school that led me to the career path I’m on now,” said Devall, who showed sheep in St. Martin Parish. “As someone who didn’t grow up on a farm, my agents were able to help me find the best opportunities to be part of a livestock project. Their guidance and time and attention is truly what led me to study animal science at LSU and to my career in 4-H.”
Braud, who showed beef cattle and participated in livestock judging as a 4-H member in Ascension Parish, has a similar story. Like Devall, he didn’t grow up on a farm.
“But I was fortunate enough to show cattle for all nine years as a 4-H member,” he said. “My agent took the time to expose me to all that the 4-H livestock program has to offer.”
His agent’s dedication sparked Braud’s interest in a career involving 4-H and animal science.
“My goal was to do whatever it took to be just like her,” he said.
The agent trainings themselves offer learning opportunities for 4-H’ers, too. Devall noted the importance them giving presentations and practicing their public speaking skills.
“Our Louisiana 4-H Livestock Ambassadors are the ones living out this project day to day,” she said. “These students are passionate and knowledgeable about their projects, so this is a great space for them to be able to showcase that while also teaching agents in the field.”
Louisiana 4-H Livestock Ambassador Hayden Daigle demonstrates brushing his goat during a training session for LSU AgCenter agents held Aug. 16, 2023. Agents looking on are, from left, Alisha Okoro and Courtney Budenich, both of Orleans Parish, and Heather Egger, of Jefferson Parish. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Jefferson Parish 4-H agent Heather Egger admires the soft coat of 4-H Livestock Ambassador Hayden Daigle’s goat during a livestock training session held Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Louisiana 4-H Livestock Ambassador Elise Meche, right, talks to LSU AgCenter agents about some of the grooming tools she uses during a training session held Aug. 16, 2023. Agents, from left, include Lekeisha Lucas-Powell, Randi Toups, Betsy Crigler, Wayne Burgess, Brandi Brister, Mikaela Davenport and Cherie Roger. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Louisiana 4-H Livestock Ambassador Jimmy Sibille talks to LSU AgCenter agents during a training session held Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Tyler Braud, an instructor and animal science specialist with the LSU AgCenter School of Animal Sciences and Louisiana 4-H, speaks to a group of AgCenter agents about body condition scoring for livestock during a training session Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter