When I was a kid, my dad would say: When you raise livestock, you are never without something to do. That still rings true today.
I’ve thought about this reality a lot the past 60+ days of shelter in place here in Illinois. Do our kids miss their friends? Yes, very much. Do our kids miss sports and activities? Most definitely. But are they bored? Not even close.
With shortened school hours during the day and no practices after school or in the evenings, our kids have put more hours than ever before into their livestock projects. Even though life as we’ve known it has shut down, not much has changed in our barn. If anything, the learning opportunities have exploded.
Here are just a few lessons the quarantine has taught us:
1. When you face a roadblock, figure out a different way around it.
Our kids might never get to walk their animals into a show ring this year, but they’ve learned even when life throws you an unexpected curveball, there’s always a way to innovate around it. Within a matter of days of the quarantine, the livestock industry created new opportunities for kids to get show experiences virtually. It’s not the same as stepping into the show ring with your competitors, but it allows them to set goals, improve their skills and learn from others. We spend our weekends working in the barn, taking breaks to virtually watch our pigs compete against others throughout the country. We’re texting friends and cheering each other on even though we’re not standing side by side watching the show together.
2. If you want to improve, you must identify where you fall short.
Evaluation is critical to improvement. There is nothing I love more than listening to my kids evaluate their pigs each day and describe how they are changing or where they need to be better. The older they get, the more they engage in these discussions, which certainly humors their father who could talk about livestock all day. The virtual shows provide class after class for kids to watch and learn from the judges and their comments. When you take the “social” aspect out of the shows, it certainly increases retention of the judges’ comments. I am grateful for the judges who have spent days sorting through these entries online and delivering insightful comments and suggestions to help us all improve.
3. Success means more when you achieve it together.
Believe me, it’s not always “kum ba yah” out there in the barn. But as our kids get older, I’m witnessing their friendship deepen the more time they spend together working toward common goals. There’s no doubt the hours upon hours of walking pigs or goats together is growing their friendship in ways I couldn’t begin to orchestrate otherwise. My favorite thing to do is step out onto my front porch as the sun starts to set and watch them walking their pigs together. I know these days are numbered and won’t last forever, but I hope the memories they make together will.
4. It’s not about you all the time.
Trying to teach your kids to be selfless is hard, especially in a world where “you do you.” I want them to learn now that putting others first multiplies your happiness. The urge to focus on “me” is high right now when you can’t get out to see your friends and family. Fortunately, they don’t have time to stop too long and mourn what they don’t have because what they do have is literally looking them in the face and demanding they carry on. After all, isn’t that what youth livestock projects are really all about — teaching our kids responsibility and reminding them that life is not just about them?
Buckles fade and banners sag over time, but the memories and lessons learned in the barn don’t. I didn’t need this time in quarantine to teach me the value of youth livestock projects, but it has certainly reminded me not to take them for granted.
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