No barn? No land? No problem! Pa. 4-H’ers can lease project animals

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SALEM, Ohio – Visiting the countryside is a favorite weekend activity for many suburban Americans, but many don’t get the chance to do so.

Along those same lines, many children aren’t afforded the opportunity to have pets – including horses, cattle, pigs and lambs – or any type of experience with larger animals because of zoning ordinances, lack of farm backgrounds, or the simple reality of limited land and money resources.

Progress. However, under a program offered in Pennsylvania, youth with no ownership capabilities can lease farm animals for 4-H projects.

“There are a lot of kids out there who can’t own [the livestock] but who want that experience,” said Dale Olver, instructor of dairy and animal science at Penn State.

Olver is involved in the implementation of the lease program at the state level.

Though originally intended for breeding beef and dairy cattle, hogs, lambs and goats, young people in Pennsylvania most often take advantage of the program to show dairy cattle, Olver said.

Market animals do not qualify for the program.

What’s involved. At the project’s beginning, a project plan is completed that outlines the specifics of the young person’s duties, including farm visits, chores, and other help they might “owe” the helping farmer.

“It’s pure speculation, but I’m guessing the producer usually pays for the feed. The kid then helps feed and take care of the animal,” Olver said.

The animals are still housed at their home farm with the rest of the herd, so sponsoring farmers usually pick up any additional costs, including veterinarian bills and health care.

Competition. All project plans must be approved by a county extension agent or vo-ag teacher so the child can exhibit the animal at 4-H shows, a move that protects the integrity of everyone involved, Olver said.

Until four years ago, the dairy animals were limited to competitions at county roundups, Olver said. But with many of the young people doing well with their projects, state officials allowed them the opportunity to advance to district and state dairy shows.

Leased animals may not be exhibited in open or junior shows that require proof of ownership by the 4-H member, including some county shows, the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and Keystone International Livestock Exposition.

Steady increase. The number of youth taking advantage of the opportunity is steadily increasing.

This project year, an estimated 15 animals at the state junior dairy show were shown under provisions of the lease program, Olver said.

An unknown number of animals were also shown at lower-level shows, he said.

Purpose. The program was modeled after a nearly identical one in Maryland that allows children with nonfarm backgrounds to learn about animal agriculture.

“This is for the neighbor, the distant cousin, the kid who lives in town,” Olver said.

Since its beginning in 1988, approximately 200 youth have shown dairy cattle in Maryland shows, according to Lee Majeskie, state extension dairy specialist.

“For a relatively small state with high concentrations of urban areas around D.C. and Baltimore, we’re doing pretty good,” he said.

This year, Maryland extension officials are expanding the program to include other species.

“[The program] gives kids a really big opportunity vs. what they would learn with nonanimal projects,” Majeskie said.

A number of young people who excelled in veterinary careers and livestock judging teams can trace the beginnings of their interests to the program, Majeskie said.

Limitations. In both states, youth can also learn the traditional lessons relating to animal care like responsibility and time management, Olver said.

Participating children keep any awards and premiums won.

However, the deal prohibits farmers from using the program as a way to promote their best animals and get them into junior shows and increasing their winnings.

In addition, parents cannot lease animals to their own children.

“For instance, a kid wanting to take a milking cow can only show her if she was shown as a leased heifer,” Olver said, noting the program was designed to benefit the child.

However, participating farmers also find benefits.

“I think a lot of them see this as a real way to help people learn about agriculture,” Olver said.

“They see how this can make a real difference in the life of a young person.”

For information on the leasing program, interested Pennsylvania youth should contact their county extension agent or Dale Olver at 814-863-3914.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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