4-H Animal Science Hands-On Learning

May 2023

U of MN Extension graphic

By Kirstin Koch, Extension Educator, Youth Development

Our 4-H Animal Science project areas have long been a staple in the Minnesota 4-H program; they are among some of the most popular 4-H projects for members each year.  With over 8 species to choose from, 4-H provides youth an opportunity to learn and grow with an animal project.  We all love to walk through and see the animals in the barns at the fair, knowing that those 4-Hers spent much of the year learning about and producing the project we see.  Whether it is a pig, a lamb or a pen of chickens, 4-Hers are showing the benefits of their hard work at the fair.

Beyond the animal, there is much learning to be had!  4-H provides opportunities for youth to learn about the animals and products they are producing.  Youth are able to experience different hands-on learning opportunities and explore topics that spark their interest. Youth in 4-H learn through self directed learning, team opportunities, hands-on workshops and industry tours.  A few examples of these 4-H experiences include 4-H Project Bowl, Junior Vet Kids Camp and Barn to BBQ.

4-H provides opportunities for youth to learn through team experiences such as judging teams and our project bowl program.  Project Bowl takes place over the winter months, with competitions across the state in March and April.  This year about 200 teams and over 800 youth statewide participated on a team and learned more about their specific project!  Teams met throughout the winter learning more about their specie, including nutrition, reproduction, breeds, livestock care, health, meat products and more.   

Hands-on workshops enhance learning throughout the year as well!  In February, 4-H partnered with the Veterinary Technology program at Ridgewater in Willmar to offer the Junior Vet Kids Camp.  Youth learned about different aspects of the program, from nutrition to grooming to animal care; they also learned about potential career opportunities such as a veterinarian tech, dog groomer or veterinarian.

This summer, there are several opportunities for youth to learn more about their livestock projects, the livestock industry and potential career opportunities for them in the future; one specifically is the 4-H Barn to BBQ event.  On June 13, Minnesota 4-H will be partnering with AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) to offer Barn to BBQ at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.  This event is designed to be a day full of meat science exploration.  Participants will learn from industry experts on different meat products, the value of meat products, how they are processed and what they taste like.  They will see live ultrasounds of valuable cuts of meat, see primal cuts being broken down into retail cuts and  learn the importance of meat grading.  4-Hers will learn from 4-H volunteers, meat scientists, livestock producers and Extension educators. While it will be a fun and tasty event, the idea is to enhance their livestock production knowledge.  Through this event, youth will see the process their product takes from the barn at the fair to the BBQ at home and the important role they play in that process.  They will also learn about the many different careers that are needed to complete that process and it may spark an interest!   If you would like to learn more about this opportunity, check out z.umn.edu/BarntoBBQ.

Providing program opportunities like these team learning experiences and hands-on workshops, allow 4-H youth to deepen their animal science learning and potentially create a spark for lifelong interests!