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Animal regulations and the future for today's 4-H exhibitors

By Matt Reese

Starting in late July, a sea of dedicated Ohio youth clad in plaid shirts, jeans and shiny belt buckles congregated in Columbus for the Ohio State Fair, the pinnacle of livestock shows in the state. They arrived toting meticulously groomed and cared for market livestock of every kind — from goats to beef cattle.

Many of these young people have been perfecting their showmanship skills since they could carry a show stick and have spent months painstakingly working with their animals. They go to great lengths to make sure every hair is in place and every comfort is provided to maximize the animal’s performance.

Once they get to the fair, the animals are cleaned to a show ring sheen and clipped to eye-appealing perfection. When the show arrives, the young exhibitors toil in the sweltering heat to present their animals to the discerning eye of the judge.

After the champion has been chosen and the ribbons awarded, tears are shed as the animal and exhibitor part after spending countless hours together in preparation for this event. Then the exhibitors dry their tears and begin planning to do it all over again for the next Ohio State Fair. Why? They love working with animals and providing a source of high quality food for consumers.

As they grow up, the most dedicated and gifted of this elite group may attend college to further develop their passion for working with livestock. Of this group, the best of the best may have the chance to return to family farms or set off on their own to raise livestock as a profession. Professional athletes make up around 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, 2 percent of the U.S. population farms.

To play the game of production livestock, even for these gifted few, is a daunting challenge. There is a tremendous initial investment for an extremely risky business venture that, if all goes well, promises only modest returns. Yet these dedicated few farmers continue to toil every day with their animals. Why? They love working with animals and providing a source of high quality food for consumers.

This small, gifted group of people have worked with, shed tears over, groomed, cared for and loved animals since the time they could walk. That is why they chose animal agriculture as a profession.

Now, put yourself in their shoes when an activist group from out of state, run by people who cannot tell the difference between a show stick and a feed trough, comes to Ohio to tell livestock producers how to run their businesses. That is exactly what happened this summer when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced their plan to put an issue on the November ballot to implement restrictive measures on animal agriculture. This ended in late June when HSUS announced that they would not pursue a ballot measure after an agreement was struck with Ohio agricultural leaders and Governor Ted Strickland.

This agreement is a list of recommendations that the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (put into place last fall with the passage of Issue 2) will consider as they formulate the animal care rules for the state. Both sides of this contentious issue say they can live with the agreement, but it still does not necessarily sit well with some in the livestock industry.

“The reality is that those of us in the livestock business have been very independent for a lot of years. That makes it tough when other people start telling us we have to do things differently,” said Jeff Harding, vice president of livestock marketing for United Producers, Inc. “The whole issue of livestock handling and care does not have a simple solution for everyone involved. This agreement hopefully allows for viable solutions and adjustments to be found based on science. It is not perfect, but I think it is something we can live with.”

This year, despite the ongoing debate about the agreement, things will go on as usual at the Ohio State Fair. Hard work, sweat, ribbons, and tears will all be present and the future of animal agriculture will put on another great show. They will keep meticulously caring for their animals each year. And maybe, one day, the best of the best will put their years of love and expertise to work to provide your food for a living, if we let them.

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