Doing the Right Thing - Ethics and Livestock Projects
Livestock Update, February 1997
Mark L. Wahlberg, Animal and Poultry Sciences Department
Youth gain in many ways as a result of conducting livestock projects. You've all seen the list before. It includes learning responsibility, caring for another living thing, making good decisions, managing money, keeping records, and so forth. These are pretty important personality characteristics, and when a young person does the daily chores and keeps records of what they do they grow in these important ways.
The livestock show is the Grand Finale for the project. It may be a county fair, or it may be a district livestock show. Either way it's a highly visible event in the community. It's a competition to see who is the best showman, or who raised the best lamb, steer, or barrow. Members display a great deal of pride when they exhibit their animal. All of these things are good.
Over the last few years these shows have come under close scrutiny. Headlines have been printed about the champion animals having been raised with the use of illegal drugs. Exhibitors have been caught abusing their animals to make weight requirements for the show. Some people have gone to court and served jail sentences over some of these incidents. A new word has popped into the vocabulary regarding youth livestock events, and that word is ETHICS.
There have now been two National Youth Livestock Program Ethics Symposia held. Many states have instituted programs to educate participants about ethics. A Code of Ethics has been written and adopted by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. It's time to put the teaching of ethics into Virginia's youth livestock program.
First of all, I want to clearly state that I definitely do not think we have a major problem in this area with our young people. On the other hand, I also do not think we are free of situations that some would call unethical. Second, this is not a way to jump on the bandwagon, keep up with the Joneses, or follow the leader.
In my dictionary, ethics is defined as "the study of standards of conduct and moral judgment." Sounds like the kind of thing all young people should be taught, doesn't it? Let's look at how it might fit into the livestock project area.
We should probably begin by identifying two broad categories, those being 1) practices or procedures done to the animal versus 2) behavior by people. Dr. Jeff Goodwin, in his videotape entitled "The Line in the Sand" poses 4 questions that help identify if practices are ethical or not.
*Note that the last question deals with management practices and not with fitting, grooming, or showing techniques. It is only used when the first three questions cannot provide an answer about a procedure.*
This brief list of questions makes it pretty easy to identify those practices or procedures that should not be done. It's a bit more difficult when dealing with behavior of people. The basic questions here would deal with achieving the objectives and intent of the youth (notice that the word youth is bold) livestock project.
The reason young people conduct projects is to learn by doing. Therefore, we should let them do the feeding, cleaning, clipping, grooming, and fitting of their animals. Sure, they need someone to teach them, but they don't learn if someone does it for them. And who should teach and provide that help? It's probably best if it's another 4-H or FFA member, parent, leader, teacher, brother or sister. It should definitely not be someone hired to do the job. Professional fitters have no place at a 4-H or FFA livestock show, except to be a part of the audience.
No one should do anything to an animal without the owner knowing about and agreeing with it. Parents who apply treatments to their child's animal to give it a competitive edge are putting their child at risk of being caught doing something illegal. Let's provide a good example of how to behave for our children.
Teaching ethics in the livestock program starts at home and at local clubs. It can't be legislated. Sure, there need to be rules by which shows operate, and penalties that will be imposed if those rules are broken. Some shows have exhibitors agree to a Code of Conduct before they participate. But ethics deals with doing the right thing, not just what is within the bounds of the rules. It is not what you can get away with. Ethics is an attitude, and involves a conscience. Ethics is taught by example - a good example. Adults can only be reminded of what's right or wrong, because they have already learned this. Young people, on the other hand, are still learning. We have a teachable moment! The lessons learned now will last a lifetime.
Some resources are available to assist in teaching this important issue to youth with livestock projects.
Videotapes with accompanying Facilitator Guides - Produced by Dr. Jeff Goodwin who was with Texas Extension Service at time of production.
Contact Barbara Foster at 540/231-5252 or e-mail to BFOSTER@VT.EDU for information on available video and written materials.