It’s been just over 20 years since I showed my last 4-H calf at the Lethbridge Northen 4-H show and sale, as part of the Turin beef club. We struggled for years to keep that club going, but we did. It was a very important part of our upbringing. The excitement that surrounded achievement day was awesome. How did everyone’s animal do this year? Who was going to win rate-of-gain? Which club was going to win the cleanest stall award? Who was getting showman award? (I never had to worry about that one, I was just happy to get that stupid calf there). Or — the big one — who was going to get grand champion.
Man, if you were able to get grand champion, you hit the jackpot. Chances were you would get a whopping $2/lb for that animal. It was always a great time and real social event in the community.
Fast forward 20 years and I am back in 4-H. This time as a parent. My kids love it. There is no other program in agriculture that teaches some of the real lifeskills that kids can take with them into adulthood. Public speaking, community service, hard work — the list goes on. That being said, what happened in St. Paul at the beef achievement day this week disappoints me. Actually, it disgusts me.
What happened? A 4-H calf sold for $82,000 — that’s $60 a pound. Eighty-two THOUSAND dollars.
I did a little research to see what the average Canadian person’s salary is in one year. The mean salary is $27,600. The top 10% of Canadians make $80,400. Someone in St.Paul just paid a 10 year old kid $82,000 for an animal that has a market value of $2200. Wow.
I would like to know, at what point does anyone think that paying $60/lb for a calf seems like a good idea? What were the two bidding parties trying to accomplish? I have never found any 4-H literature that has said “To Get Rich by Doing”.
— Greg Service (@greg_service) June 5, 2014
I have absolutely no issue with people over-paying for 4H animals. It has always happened. The kids sort of expect it — I know I did — as a reward for hard work. Sometimes an animal brings double what its worth. That stuff happens. I bought my brothers and sister a trampoline when I was 10 with my first 4-H cheque. I get that. There are business connections and friends that often get involved; some animals are just going to bring more money than others. I’m not looking at this with blinders on.
But what are we teaching these kids by handing over that kind of money to them in a public spectacle? A few of the arguments I have seen on social media have been in favor of this behavior. Statements like, “Well if anyone deserves that, it’s a 4-H Kid!”
Really? Really?! What about the other 50 kids that were showing at that sale? Or the 1000s of other kids across Canada that do the same project? Not sure how many of them got their university tuition paid for at 10 years old.
Or, “They all knew each other and it was a behind the scene business deal.”
Once again, really?! Why on earth are we using 10-year-olds as pawns in business deals at events that have other kids just going in trying to do their best at a project that they have worked on all year. Why not just hand a check to him over a meal at a swanky restaurant?
As a parent, if I had been a first-hand observer to what happened as a participant in the achievement day, I would be doing some long, hard thinking as to whether or not I would need to part of that group going forward. Had the animal been a charity calf, I would have no issues with this at all —that is what 4-H is all about.
I should hope that there are people in the upper ranks of 4-H that have caught wind of what happened here. If people want to spend that kind of money, I guess that is up to them, but I have seen suggestions as to how much a kid should be allowed to keep and the rest goes to scholarships for 4-H of some sort. But, in my mind, this is nothing but a black eye on the 4-H achievement day.