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The cable news channel CNN ran a story on their website this summer that raised the question “Does 4-H desensitizes kids to killing?”. As a former 4-H member for 13 years and the parent of a first year 4-H member this certainly caught my attention. Over the course of those 13 years I spent countless hours leading, washing, combing and clipping on calves. I did everything I could to make them as comfortable and healthy as possible. So how could anyone ever believe that this somehow desensitizes kids?
According to the story, some believe that 4-H helps desensitize youngsters into having no emotional attachment to animals raised for food. A few of the commenters even tried to claim that this was some grand conspiracy by the meat industry to keep them in business. Apparently by forcing these kids to sell their livestock to be processed somehow turns them into greedy, uncaring people and will lead to a life of mistreating the animals in their care.
The truth of the matter is that it teaches kids about responsibility and how life works and is sustained. We just capped off our 4-H year with a trip to Rapid City, SD for the Western Junior Livestock Show. It’s a tremendous show that our son was very excited to be part of. For his first year in 4-H he decided to show a bred heifer named Morgan. All summer and through the fall he learned how to care for his calf. He probably put a hundred miles on his bike just going back and forth to the barn to check on her. In the end his hard work paid off when he proudly marched his well-behaved heifer into that show ring with a grin on his face.
While we were at the show I tried to figure out how all of the hard work each one of those kids had put in that summer could somehow be a bad thing? I didn’t see any desensitized kids. What I saw were hard working, polite young people, working with their families and their fellow 4-Her’s to learn responsibility and proper livestock care.
I also couldn’t help but think what a better place our world may be if every kid had a “Morgan” in their life for just one summer. Morgan will be in our herd for the next several years but like every cow on the ranch her time will come to an end. However, the lessons she taught our son will last forever and for that I’m grateful.