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Livestock show offers exceptional rewards
QUITMAN, Miss. -- Livestock exhibitors work hard for trophies and blue ribbons, but they occasionally earn intangible rewards that will never collect dust.
Christy King, an agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Clarke County since 2010, knows what typical 4-H members learn through livestock projects.
“Most participants learn about responsibility as they care for their animals, and then they gain self-confidence and the ability to win or lose with grace in the shows,” King said. “Our Special Needs Livestock Show teaches traditional exhibitors to look beyond their own world and recognize the value of others in our community as they assist their peers with disabilities in the arena.”
King resurrected the once popular show in 2012 after it had been on hiatus for about a decade. On Jan. 23, she watched as 22 exhibitors with special needs received trophies for their efforts under the watchful eyes of active 4-H exhibitors of hogs, goats and lambs.
“This show builds relationships between regular education and special education students and bolsters citizenship, leadership and self-esteem. This makes the 4-H livestock project accessible to special education students regardless of their physical or mental challenges,” King said. “The response from each group is remarkable.”
Brittany Conner, a student at Quitman High School who has been showing for five years, said helping with the special needs show is a highlight of her year.
“I know what it’s like to have some educational challenges, so I really enjoy sharing this experience with others,” Conner said. “Since I’ve been doing this, I’m more likely to visit with these students throughout the year.”
Jennifer Riley is a special education teacher in the Quitman School District. She knows the benefits young people gain from working with livestock firsthand because her daughter is involved in the 4-H Livestock Program.
“This field trip is a great opportunity for our students and provides more hands-on learning than most other trips,” Riley said. “We study livestock before we come to the show so that students know what we get from hogs, sheep and goats. They also enjoy interacting with their classmates or students from other schools.”
Riley also pointed to the sense of pride students gain from receiving their trophies, which were provided by the Great Southern National Bank.
“The activities surrounding this show promote communication, fine motor and social skills,” she said. “They also get the opportunity to meet a celebrity judge.”
This year, U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper served as the celebrity judge, presenting trophies for categories such as best-dressed lamb, most athletic goat and cutest pig. He commended King and the Clarke County 4-H members for making the show possible.
“As the parent of a child with special needs, I know how much it means to that child for people to show they care,” Harper said. “We all know that every child -- with special needs or not -- can always do better with support, time and love from others.”
Rozanne Evans, whose ninth-grade son took part in his third show this year, said she knows he enjoys the experience.
“He loves the trophy and the interaction with the other students, but he especially enjoys being around the animals,” she said. “His favorite part is showing the pigs.”