For some boys and girls in Doddridge County, preparing for college starts early – like 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. early to feed the goats, pigs and sheep.

4-H’ers in Doddridge County participate in various West Virginia University Extension Service youth development programs, like the livestock program, which includes educational training, raising an animal and exhibiting it at the county fair. When ready, the animal is sold at the market and can yield funds that many 4-H’ers save for college.

Zona Hutson, WVU Extension Service Families and Health agent in Doddridge County, said she has a number of children and teenagers who participate in the program because they are passionate about farming and animals.

“It is fairly extensive and diverse; there’s a lot of time and reasonability involved in this program,” Hutson said. “Big rewards are possible, but many do it for the love of showing. It takes hard work, practice and skill to get there.”

Mikayla Yeager, 16, of Salem, W.Va., has been raising animals for show since age 5.

“I feed and water them three times a day – all my animals. And we work with them to make them able to show – so we don’t want them fat. We want muscle, so I walk them up hills and at our fair, we have to be able to lead them around by the neck – no halter,” she said.

Yeager is just one of the thousands of 4-hers around the state raising all variety of cattle and using the proceeds to help fund their college education. At county fairs around the state — and especially at the State Fair happening this week — bidders will pay thousands of dollars for the animals. Some get reprieved, but some end up on the dinner table.

Yeager raises lambs from birth until show time. Her family also purchases pigs and goats from other farmers to raise and show at the county fair. Yeager’s lamb has taken home top honors the past three years at the fair, and she has sold more than 15 animals she has raised.

“I put the money into savings, which goes toward feed and animals for the next year. A certain amount goes to college,” she said, though she is unsure what she plans to study. The top two options are either an anesthesiologist or an agriculture teacher – the latter no doubt influenced by her time in 4-H.

Yeager plans to continue showing animals at the fair as long as she can until she “ages out” at 21, the age limit for participating in the 4-H fair program.

Robby Currey, a 2015 Agriculture and Extension Education graduate from WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, did just that.

“I first started showing animals when I was 11 or so, and showed until I was 21. I started out showing goats, and by the time that my show career ended, I was fortunate to show goats, lambs, hogs, feeder steers and heifers, as well as market steers,” Currey said. “I would show every time that I was given the opportunity to. Whether it was my own animals or for other farms, I loved the show ring, it was the place I felt confident, it was my stage, and where I showed the world what this industry means to me.”

Currey, who grew up on a farm in Salem, W.Va., now works as a reprehensive in the bovine reproductive technology industry.

“Showing livestock taught me more lessons than I can really count ? (it) taught me to be responsible for something other than myself. The early mornings before school feeding and rinsing the steers, exercising the lambs, and making sure the hogs had fresh water,” Currey said.

“All of this was done before I ate breakfast, and got ready to school. Showing livestock taught me to appreciate my parents. They instilled within me a strong work ethic and taught me the value of diligent labor. My parents were huge supporters of my passion, and still to this day support my younger siblings, and many other youth exhibitors in our county 4-H program as club leaders.”

In addition to the lessons Currey learned, he said one of the most important takeaways from his experience was being able to afford college.

“I learned to save, invest and be responsible with money, and appreciate its worth. With the sale of my livestock projects I was able to save, and invest in things that were going to benefit my future or provide profit due to wise investments. It’s because of my livestock projects I came out of college with far less debt than many of my classmates – having already paid off my first two years,” Currey said.

“I was able to purchase a vehicle, and pay it off rather promptly. With the help of my family, I purchased livestock, and now sell lambs to 4-H and FFA members’ state wide, essentially starting my own business and profiting from sales. Showing livestock also opened the doors for scholarships. I received over $3,000in scholarship money, which also helped when it came to school.”

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CONTACT: Cassie Thomas; WVU Extension Service

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