LOVINGTON, N.M. – In a world filled with children playing video games and turning themselves into couch potatoes, there are programs that offer youth much more.
In southeast New Mexico, many of the youngsters find plenty of things to fill their days while being involved in 4H and FFA livestock showing. It involves hard work and fortitude. It means learning to be selfless and caring.
“I think it’s important to have kids busy and active in something they’re interested in,” said Wayne Cox, a Lea County Extension Agent. “The main thing is we teach them responsibilities. You’ve got to learn to take care of something. What the kids are learning is that their animals are like they’re taking care of stuff as if they were parents taking care of their kids.
“These animals can’t take care of themselves, so they need someone to take care of them.”
All that care will be put on display during Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for Aug. 5-13 in Lovington. It’s one of the biggest livestock exhibitions in New Mexico. The shows begin Tuesday, Aug. 9, with the market swine and dairy heifer shows. The shows Wednesday, Aug. 10, will feature poultry judging, meat goat show and the market lamb show; rabbit judging, the beef heifer show and the market steer show will take place Thursday, Aug. 11.
“We have probably 300 kids involved in our 4H and FFA programs, inside exhibitions and everything,” said Dean Jackson, chairman of the fair board.
That’s impressive, but is the care the animals are receiving. It’s all in the value of life lessons that can’t be taught in a textbook.
“These kids learn that they have to go out there during the heat of the day and make sure the animals are cared for instead of lying on the couch playing video games,” Cox said. “With my kids, our philosophy is that we don’t eat until the animals eat. That means we don’t eat our breakfast until we feed our animals.
“When they get old enough to go out in the work force, they need to get up in the morning and take care of their chores. They’ll need to have that responsibility by then.”
The culmination of all that work comes Saturday, Aug. 13. The 4H Awards presentation will take place at 7:30 a.m., followed by the Sale of Champions at 8 a.m.
“Our junior livestock sale consistently runs second or third in the state as far as revenue for the kids,” Jackson said. “We used to be bigger than the state fair. Last year we had $170,000-plus on 100 entries. It’s amazing.
“It’s unreal to watch what they give these kids. I remember when I was showing, lambs would bring $2 a pound. Now they’re bringing $25 to $30 a pound.”
Once an animal enters the sale ring, it is no longer eligible for another New Mexico show. Most of the animals sold at the Lea County Fair and Rodeo sale are donated to charitable organizations.
“Ten to 12 years ago, it was the largest hog show in the state,” Cox said. “There were over 400 hogs at the county fair at one time. That’s one of the reasons we got the new facilities, because we outgrew the old facilities.
“In terms of pure community support, we’ve got one of the best county fair sales around. There are some counties that can compete with us in terms of what we sell, but year in and year out we’re on of the top sales in the state. Our county has been very gracious in how they support our youth here.”
While it seems the youngsters get a great benefit from the sale of their animals, the rewards are greater in the years that follow.
“By far the most important thing in showing livestock is the responsibilities the kids learn through it,” Cox said.