Linda Benedict, LaBauve, Randy, Merrill, Thomas A.
2010 marks an impressive milestone for the LSU AgCenter Livestock Show – the 75th show. The show’s longevity, adaptability and continued popularity among youth are indicators of the event’s success. In 2009, nearly 6,700 youth were enrolled in 4-H livestock projects.
The first state show was held in 1936 at the Jefferson Parish racetrack. It was for both adults and junior 4-H entrants. That year 4-H club members had already begun an awareness campaign to help reduce tick problems with calves – ultimately leading to the lifting of a federal quarantine on livestock in the state.
In 1943, the livestock competition for youth, known as the Junior Livestock Show, was opened to FFA members as well as 4-H’ers, helping to increase the number of participants. As more categories were added, participation increased as well. Until the 1940s, youth could compete only in the calf, dairy and fat barrows divisions. Now, they compete in categories for various breeds of beef and dairy cattle, goats, hogs, poultry and sheep.
In 1999, the Gerry Lane Premier Exhibitor Awards Program was established to give champion awards to youth demonstrating outstanding mastery over livestock concepts and skills. The awards are based on performance in tests of each youth’s knowledge of the livestock industry, practical exercises demonstrating skills and the ability to communicate effectively. Participants have to pass an exam, take part in a skill-a-thon, write an essay, prepare a resume, and show poise and confidence during an interview with livestock show officials.
In 2009, Price LeBlanc, a Baton Rouge automobile dealer, established a $40,000 endowment to fund the Price LeBlanc Champion Livestock Award, which is presented to one grand champion market animal each year and rotates among five species – steers, swine, sheep, chickens and goats.
Generous benefactors have always been vital to the show’s success. Community leaders and businesses have been offering scholastic premiums to champion participants, allowing them to earn at least market value for their champion animals. This was not always the case. During the early years, champion animals were sold at auction.
In 1937, the 4-H Baby Beef Show, as it was called then, was moved to the LSU Livestock Show Pavilion (now the Reilly Theater on the LSU campus). The following year, the event travelled only a couple hundred feet to the newly completed LSU Parker Coliseum and its adjoining livestock barns. Even though the Coliseum was one of the largest and most advanced show facilities in the country, the event steadily grew in size, eventually burgeoning beyond the building’s capacity. This consistent growth prompted the LSU AgCenter to find a larger facility for the event. In 2004, the state livestock show moved to the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. The livestock competition has been held there every year since then.
As an illustration of the event’s historical growth, the first annual show in 1936 had only 35 calves entered in the junior division. When the event reached its 50th year in 1985, there were nearly 5,000 livestock entries (the grand champions were sold on the steps of the state Capitol that year). Current LSU AgCenter Livestock Shows have been averaging more than 3,000 youth and 6,000 animal entries per year.
Over the course of the show’s history, the standards have changed. It used to be that any 4-H or FFA member with livestock could compete in the state show. Now, competitors must win at parish and district levels to make it to the state show. Despite all the changes, the central focus remains youth development. Young participants are still learning responsibility and achievement as the true reward for hard work, just as they did in 1936. The real value of the LSU Livestock Shows has been to help youth become winners in life.
Randy LaBauve and Tom Merrill
(This article was published in the winter 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)