To the untrained eye, participants at the Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show and Sale look like kids and teens excited to show off the animals they raised. You could assume hundreds of hours went into feeding and caring for the cow, swine, goat, or sheep. We could give you the benefit of the doubt and say you’ll understand the work these competitors have put in to develop relationships with the animals.
All of that work is remarkable. But what if you discovered these youths are not just learning about what it takes to raise a farm animal, but also leadership qualities, public speaking skills, learning about agriculture and what makes it the leading industry in the state.
“We feel like animal science and agriscience is a critical industry in North Carolina,” said Jonathon Smith, Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development at the Orange County Cooperative Extension. “The No. 1 industry in North Carolina is agriculture, and and we want to prepare young leaders for that industry.”
The 75th Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show returns to Orange County April 13-14, after being cancelled last year because of Covid-19. The competition is at the Holstein Barn at 6716 Orange Grove Road in Hillsborough. Covid restrictions will limit the number of people allowed at the show to participants and family members. Livestreams or video recordings will be made available to the public.
“It is a great show for FFA and 4-H participants,” said Tyrone Fisher, Orange County Extension Director and co-chair of the Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show. “I have enjoyed working with it throughout my career. Working with FFA teachers from several counties, working with the 4-H agents and livestock agents from several counties. We have had a lot of kids that get started here at the Central Piedmont show in the spring, and when they get ready to go to the State Fair in the fall, they are big winners in showmanship, as well as their market animals. It is a great training ground for bigger shows.”
The show is held in Orange County because of its centralized location to the participating counties.
“The Durham Kiwanis Club was doing the show and they gave it up in the mid-1980s,” said Vaughn Compton, who has for several years been co-chair of the Junior Livestock Show. “Bob Strayhorn showed animals at the show in Durham as a kid growing up and in high school. He thought it was important to keep the show going, so he decided to bring it to Orange County. The Hillsborough Exchange Club was the first sponsorship money Strayhorn received and it has given us money every year since. Hillsborough Exchange Club and Orange County Farm Bureau are our two biggest sponsors.”
This year, 59 youth livestock exhibitors will be competing from eight counties, including 21 from Orange County. The show offers kids first-hand experiences in the livestock industry and potentially seeing the fruits of their labor.
“Some students will choose to sell their animal to the market,” said Smith. “So we’ll sell to the processor and the student will get a price-per-pound payment. But then the Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show committee specifically raises money for students competing from Durham and Orange counties. Whatever money we collect from businesses and individuals who want to sponsor the show, we typically divide among the student exhibitors and put a premium payment on top of that market price, so they get something to help invest back into their project. These students, these families, are having to buy their own animal, feed their animals to take care of them, and provide shelter for those animals take care of them. The fundraising process we go through is done to help invest money back into those children of those families. It helps cover their costs, and helps them to continue the learning experience at home.”
“Most years it is the biggest agricultural event in Orange County,” said Karen McAdams, a retired livestock agent from Orange County Cooperative Extension. McAdams retired 11 years ago, but still volunteers with the junior livestock show, which she has been involved with for 41 years. “We often have over 500 people at this event and it sort of celebrates our heritage and celebrates all the hard work.
“It does help kids learn responsibility, how to follow through, how to do something hard and accomplish it,” McAdams said. “We’ve had kids that are really shy or lack self confidence to wind up halter breaking a lamb up in that line, then getting it ready and, yeah, it dragged them around a little bit, but now it’s halter broke, and they’re going to show it and do a good job.”
McAdams added that the 4-H and FFA groups have, over the past several years, become proactive in being more inclusive and reaching out to a more diverse population of kids for the programs and show.
“We try to make this show not as competitive as a lot of other shows across the state,” said Compton. “We want this show to be fun and a learning show for kids. I think we’ve had real great success with it over the years. It’s been a great place for town people to come in see how things are going with the farming community. With 4-H and FFA now, there’s not as many farm kids, so they’ve reached out and there are a lot of kids that live in the city that have had the opportunity to show animals and learn how there’s a lot of work to raising an animal and getting it ready for a livestock show.”
Orange FFA Alumni typically holds a barbecue and feeds all the participants on the night of the auction, but will be unable to hold the event for this year’s show.
“It’s a lot of fun when you only see people once a year and then you see them at the livestock show, just like a reunion,” Compton said. “Some people have kids who graduated from high school, but they still come back and support us at the show.”
Even though this year’s show will be smaller, the organizers expect it will still be busy. “The amount of traffic and people movement and animal movement, because kids are allowed to show more than one animal,” Fisher said. “So there’s a lot of movement going on. It’s like a mini State Fair. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of laughter, a lot of memories being created out there.”