BROOKINGS, S.D. — Expanding animal science opportunities for youth, South Dakota 4-H introduces a new companion animal project area for members.
“This provides an opportunity for 4-Hers to exhibit and learn about animals not currently covered by other project areas,” explained Nathan Skadsen, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor for Minnehaha County.
The companion animal project area is open to any pet which relies on humans for its care. Youth can exhibit turtles, ferrets, beta fish, snakes, hedgehogs, hamsters – you name it.
“This project makes animal science accessible to 4-H members who do not have access to land for livestock or a cat, dog or rabbit – it really opens up animal science opportunities to all members,” Skadsen said.
Unique to other 4-H animal project areas, pets exhibited within the new companion animal project area are judged on their health, well-being and environment provided to them, versus specific breed standards. Members are judged on their overall knowledge of the animal and how to care for it.
“This project area provides a framework which helps youth develop public speaking and showmanship skills. If they are passionate about their pet, this project area gives them a venue to share knowledge and information,” Skadsen said.
Clover Creations 4-H leader, Nickie McMillin echoes Skadsen’s comments. Her 14-year-old son, Cian, showed his bearded dragon, Apollo, during the 2016 Sioux Empire Fair as part of a companion animal pilot project. “This was an amazing process for him. Cian is very reserved. Public speaking is not his forte, but when he was presenting on his bearded dragon, his speaking skills were phenomenal. He engaged his audience, spoke clearly, had great eye-contact – it was an outstanding experience for him,” McMillin said.
Before purchasing Apollo, Cian did a lot of research. “I really love lizards and have always been into reptiles. When I did the research, I fell in love with bearded dragons because of their soft spikes and the different colors on their skin,” Cian said.
Although he has shown cats in the past through 4-H, Cian says showing Apollo and educating the audience about her was a unique experience he enjoyed.
“I liked showing Apollo and telling the audience about her living area and why she has spikes and why she is called a bearded dragon,” explained the West Central Middle School student. “I also enjoyed actually getting to show people that exotic pets are not dangerous. You just need to love them and they will love you back.”
His mom added that the experience clearly gave Cian’s esteem a boost.
“He busted his butt to learn about his bearded dragon. He was so knowledgeable and it showed. The smiles on his face that day were genuine. And, after his demonstration, shaking hands with people who came up to talk with him afterward, I have never seen him like that before,” McMillin said.
A 4-H alumnus and professional mental health counselor at Southeast Technical Institute, McMillin served on the committee that developed the project area. She sees the new project area as yet another way to fulfill the 4-H Motto, “To Make the Best Better.”
“4-H offers a different level of comradery and competition than experiences my kids receive in school or athletics,” McMillin explained. “In 4-H, you don’t compete against other people, you compete against yourself and try to make yourself better. I love that.”
Pets exhibited in the companion animal project area will not be housed on the fairgrounds. Members are free to take them home following showmanship. In some cases, youth may decide not to bring their pet with them and may instead opt to bring a poster board presentation.
For more information, contact your local SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor. Visit iGrow.org for a complete contact list of field staff.
— SDSU Extension
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