Lessons Learned in the Barn
By: Leighton Chachere
“Lessons learned in the barn can’t be taught in the classroom,” the famous saying goes. This quote has been spoken, plastered on social media graphics, and hanging on walls of barns and ag shops around the country for years, and for good reason.
While those in the livestock industry have seen those lessons learned in the barn to be invaluable, a recent study titled “An Assessment of the Texas 4-H and FFA Youth Livestock Program: Scope, Perceptions and Return-on-Investment” has further proven what the industry has known to be true all along.
According to the study conducted by Dottie Goebel, Ph.D., livestock projects are definitely worth the investment in family time spent together, educational outcomes, life skill development, professional connections and career preparation.
The study surveyed Texas County Extension Agents, Agricultural Science Teachers and livestock exhibitor families and over 98 percent said that life skills and educational outcomes learned through livestock projects are relevant in the real world.
Raising any livestock project teaches these invaluable life lessons, but the Limousin breed specifically has produced outstanding individuals who have continued to have great successes in the agriculture industry and beyond.
Randa Taylor is just one of the most recent examples of a “graduate” from the breed who has done big things. Taylor began showing Limousin cattle from a very young age and went on to serve on the Texas Junior Limousin Association (TJLA) board as director, treasurer, president and ex-officio from 2014 to 2018, and on the North American Limousin Junior Association board as director, secretary, president and ex-officio from 2016 to 2020.
Since graduating from high school and Texas A&M University with a bachelor of science in animal science in 2022, Taylor is now attending Texas Lutheran University working on her accelerated bachelor of science in nursing with an expected graduation date of September 2022.
For Taylor, it was never a question of if and what she would show. Her grandfather had strong ties to the Limousin breed, which made it feel all the more like home.
“From before I was even born, my Papa always ran Baber Ranch where he had about 35 head of Limousin cattle,” said Taylor. “So, when my older sister and I could start showing, we started pulling from his herd. He wanted us within the breed because he was a member of the TLA and it felt like family.”
Taylor’s ties only further highlight what the study on youth livestock projects showed - family tradition/history is the most dominant factor in selecting the species for youth exhibitors.
For Remy Wyatt, it was exactly the same case. Wyatt was also raised in the Limousin breed, having a long family history of Limousin cattle from both her parents and grandparents. Wyatt showed Limousin cattle in both Kentucky and Texas growing up and served on the TJLA board from 2010 to 2014, as director, president and ex-officio.
After high school, Wyatt went on to graduate with a bachelor of science degree in Animal Science from West Texas A&M University, a master of science degree in Meat Science from Texas Tech and a doctor of philosophy in Animal Science from Iowa State University where she studied ruminant nutrition with a focus on trace mineral supplementation. Today, Wyatt works as a ruminant research scientist for Archer-Daniels-Midland Co (ADM) in Moweaqua, Illinois.
When asked why she began showing and chose the Limousin breed Wyatt said, “I think honestly, family tradition.”
“Not only that,” said Wyatt. “I had the opportunity growing up to go to a couple different junior national shows. But, some of these breeds are just so large. I would think it would be hard to get to know most of those people.”
The research study also polled exhibitors on who they seek advice from for their projects. Unsurprisingly, 22 percent of exhibitors said they seek advice and help from the breeder while family friends came in second with 20 percent.
For both Taylor and Wyatt, family came first, while breeders and family friends were a second pool of knowledge.
“In reality, my dad was one of the most knowledgeable people that I knew,” said Wyatt. “That’s not counting the Holloways, the Lawerences, all those people that I grew up with. But, the ones that I learned the most from would be my parents. They have a lot of years under their belt.”
The sense of family that both Wyatt and Taylor feel from the breed comes with no surprise. When it comes to showing Limousin cattle, the most common answer juniors give for trying to recruit new showmen is that “everyone here is one big family.”
“I think that’s why I’m glad I showed Limi’s,” said Wyatt. “Because it’s such a tight knit family. I mean, even to this day. Working in the industry, I’ve been to a couple conferences where I didn’t expect to see anybody that I knew growing up from the Limi breed, and I’ll see them.”
Taylor felt the same way during her time with the breed and said that family and family friends alike were both mentors and role models to her throughout her show career.
“The first one would be my Papa,” said Taylor. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had if it wasn’t for him. He opened all the doors and made it possible for me and my sister to do everything we possibly could to start showing and keep showing. Second would be Bruce Lawerence. I purchased my first ever show heifer from Lawerence Family Limousin.”
While family ties helped start Taylor and Wyatt on the path of showing Limousin cattle, the experiences that came with it is what made them stay.
From early mornings to long days and late nights, livestock exhibitors cannot succeed without learning to work hard, stay motivated, respect others and so much more. For parents, ag teachers and extension agents, seeing these characteristics of youth may seem like second nature. But, proving these lessons learned are critical for showing the value of exhibiting livestock.
The livestock exhibitor study found that livestock projects either somewhat or definitely foster an environment for increasing education outcomes and life skill development traits in the areas of responsibility, sportsmanship, work ethic, respect, ethical decision making, animal science knowledge, knowledge about the food supply, safe animal handling, welfare knowledge and knowledge about producing safe food animal products.
All three groups surveyed in the study also agreed that the life skills and educational outcomes learned through showing animals are relevant in real-world application. When it came to moving beyond the show ring for Wyatt, she found work ethic to be the most valuable lesson learned.
“The biggest one is work ethic,” said Wyatt. “There is literally no way I would have made it through my Ph.D. without having that sort of foundation. You have to put your nose to the grindstone, even when you don’t want to, and if I wouldn’t have had that base to start with - and kind of the background and family and all the other people that we were around that were that way, just a tremendous group of hard workers, get-it-done-people, it would have been a lot more difficult.”
Livestock exhibitor families also said that the highest outcomes were related to skill development and educational outcomes. For Taylor, discipline and resilience were two major life lessons learned in the barn that helped her through college and now a second degree.
“When you have an animal that you have to feed and take care of, and you want it to look its best, you can’t really skip days on that,” said Taylor. “You have to have discipline within your day and time management and that doesn’t just end after high school. In order to be successful and get the grades you want, you have to have discipline and time management to be able to get things done.”
Sportsmanship and respect were two traits that livestock projects showed increased life skills for. For Taylor, learning sportsmanship and respect in the show ring taught her resilience, which has been applicable to real-life challenges.
“Resilience was a big one, too,” said Taylor. “Things are going to knock you down and you have to keep going if you want to be successful. Every time you walk into the ring, there’s a chance you’re going to get beat. And, it’s all about, are you going to let that affect you tomorrow, or do you move forward?”
The youth livestock program study found that Texas youth invest an estimated 37,234,635.40 hours per year working with their livestock. It also showed that families invest over 25 hours per exhibitor, per week in time spent with projects and the average livestock exhibitor spends about 784.68 hours working with their projects each year.
The study also reported the total investment made on exhibiting cattle. For breeding heifers specifically, $7,445.63 was the average total cost for raising and exhibiting. The big question: Are all the time and money invested in these projects worth it?
“I think without a doubt, it was worth it,” said Taylor. “I played sports and was involved in other things in high school, but, there’s not another opportunity out there that introduces you to real life challenges.”
Both Wyatt and Taylor found that the life lessons learned through showing Limousin cattle has helped them succeed in life.
“I can’t tell you how much having a cattle background has helped me throughout my career,” said Wyatt. “There are people I know that I’ve either met, or they know my parents, and then there are all these opportunities with teaching and other things of that nature that are not going to go away.”
Taylor felt that lessons learned were done not only in the show ring and with her cattle, but beyond, including the many competitions and leadership roles she took on.
“The association and the breed has so many different competitions that really challenge you as a person and in skills that you can use every single day,” said Taylor. “I think that is so important. All the winnings fade away eventually, but the social skills, the hard work, and everything it teaches you makes it worthwhile.”
Wyatt pointed out that while showing cattle is a wonderful thing, it’s just the beginning for exhibitors who want to stay involved in the cattle industry.
“Don’t feel the need to just stop at show cattle,” said Wyatt. “We support a large, industry based business which feeds the world. So, genetics are the key foundation for that. But, there are other sectors, cow/calf, feedlot and all those genetics go into those to basically feed the world.”
While Taylor and Wyatt are only two examples of the exhibitors that come out of the Limousin breed, they both showcase how lessons learned in the show ring can help you long after you drop the halter and take your next step. Both didn’t just learn lifelong lessons in a barn. They made the barn their classroom.