A Multi-faceted Look at Youth Leadership
The Williamson County Livestock Association hosted the 74th Annual Livestock Association Show and Sale December 2-6 in Taylor.
Among the human participants at the livestock show were many members of local Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H Clubs, many of whom are GISD students. Walking around this event, the predominant thought is this; if there is any doubt in your mind about the integrity of Texans and even the future of our country, these are the kids you need to volunteer with or at least get to know.
There is no greater responsibility than to provide primary care for a living thing. The missions of FFA and 4-H Clubs are about exactly that. Programs and learning focus on youth development and leadership specific to agriculture and experiential learning.
County Judge Bill Gravell was at the show every day and was impressed with the character and commitment of the youth who participated. “The thing that strikes me about these young people is that every one of them knows how to look you in the eye, shake your hand, and speak confidently about him or herself. They take on great responsibility and I cannot express enough the value they represent for the future, not just in agriculture and animal science, but in all manner of leadership.”
These kids understand that having a living organism under your care is reality, accountability, and consequences—Nothing dies if they don’t do their algebra.Tom Maynard
SO MUCH MORE THAN A HOBBY
Students from all over Williamson County, including many from GISD, showed large and small livestock, and competed in many artistic and handcraft categories. Prizes were awarded for sculpture, drawing, photography, baking, metal- and woodworking, and much more.
Texas Department of Education representative Tom Maynard explains, “Future Farmers of America is an important component of Agriculture Education and pragmatic learning for students. As our national farming population ages, ownership has coalesced into fewer but much larger farms.
“It’s not just about raising animals; we need people with expertise in genetics, food safety, research, water quality, technology, even cryogenic implantation. Our next generation has an entire spectrum of skills and abilities, and it all starts here.”
Judge Gravell added that FFA is the only school activity in the state in which competition is not determined by school size. This kind of equity is what has allowed a small district like Florence, with just over 1,000 students, to have more champions than any other school in Texas. In the 2019 show alone, they had nearly as many total ribbons as GISD, which boasts more than 11,000 students.
A SPECIAL EVENT
In addition to the awards, the 2019 show had another unique piece of the leadership mosaic. Kirsten Heselmeyer, a student at Grace Academy in Georgetown, exemplified the kind of leadership 4-H intends.
Not only did she show the overall Reserve Champion heifer, and a separate class winner, she also organized a hands-on program, with multiple activities for special needs students in three local ISDs.
Nearly 70 students visited with and touched miniature sheep and horses, chicks, goats, and some world-champion guinea pigs. She even included a wrap-up to the day with a visit from Santa.
Like many her age who seek to be inclusive with special needs students, she wanted to do something for those who may not have the same opportunities to participate in 4-H. “I had an idea to incorporate my love of working with those who are differently abled and my love of livestock. This was the perfect place to share the things I love with them.”
Her dad, Scott, added that she has big plans for the event and hopes to include even more ISDs at future livestock shows.
CHAMPIONS AT LIFE
Luke Hoysa and his champion cavy guinea pig participated in the Special Event as well. Luke shared his expertise-beyond-his-years with all eight groups of students. He started working with cavies as a hobby and realized he could show them. He now cares for 80 animals and has won several international awards for his work.
He also works with rabbits and speaks about cavies frequently to other kids and—his father says—anyone who will listen. His commitment to the animals includes plans to be a professional judge and travel the world looking at cavies as a career. If that doesn’t work out, he also won a blue ribbon for photography at the show.
Anne and Mary Rose Gallagher, at just 8 and 9 years old, spend three hours a day caring for their mini-heifers and preparing them for show, but Anna and Elsa are not their first foray into animal care. Mom, Laurie, says they began with rabbits three years ago. “A friend introduced us to mini-Herefords and next thing you know we’re buying a cow and figuring it out as we go.”
Anne and Mary Rose are learning new things every day and hope to move up to steers before they are done; building relationships, earning trust, and learning how to handle 1,500 pound animals safely and lovingly.
Their family lives on a farm and they are all excited about the prospects for mini-Herefords. “It’s been a wonderful journey and we love the program. As a parent, you can’t just say, ‘Here’s a cow, go figure it out.’ We are just as involved, so it is a wonderful thing to experience as a family.”
Laurie believes mini-cows will be their own mini-industry because maintaining large cows requires more acreage and feed. “This is for homestead farmers. Anything under 60 acres is a ‘gentleman’s ranch’ and these cows represent a sustainable lifestyle for families.”