As I sit down to write this week, I have two pertinent topics to Indiana youth and the livestock industry to choose from. One stems form the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Indiana State Fair when the stage collapsed during a concert and killed six people, injuring dozens more. It was indeed a tragedy, requiring quick decisions.
One of those decisions was to cancel 4-H shows on Sunday and not reschedule them, which wiped out part of the dairy and sheep shows. Personally, this seems extreme. Many kids were stripped of the opportunity to show and get a full feel for the experience of showing- what the 4-H livestock project is supposed to be about.
However, this subject is still too fresh, and there are still too many unanswered questions about who made what decision and why they made it. Rumors provide enough range of answers for a good game of pin the tail on the donkey. Until that picture settles out a bit more and it's clearer what really happened, it's probably premature to delve into that subject too deeply.
That's OK, because there is another subject involving both 4-H and open class livestock exhibitors that needs addressing…again! That's flat-out cheating. While I may be preaching to the choir, if you've ever shown a gilt in a Yorkshire class even though you knew she was a crossbred, what do you tell your kids? Is that a good example to set? What we all need to remember as parents, and it applies to me as well, is the decisions we make as parents in guiding our kids are often the most teachable moments in those kids lives.
By a quirk of fate and a mistake by the semen company, we had a litter of pigs that looked more like purebred Hamps than many actual purebred Hamp litters do. Ten of the eleven pigs that were weaned had perfect belts. The problem was that the mom was a registered Berk. "Show them as Hamps, it won't be hard to get papers,' someone said. He was probably right, but it would be the exact wrong thing to teach kids. We showed a barrow and a gilt from that litter as crossbreds, not Hamps.
What's even more disturbing is those blatantly showing disregard for the rules, and in some cases, for animal well being. I thought we were past the days of someone buying a calf at a 4-H auction and slipping it into a 4-H show at a later fair, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that we're not past them. After all the hours volunteers have invested and all the money in equipment to do retinal scanning, to have proof of which animal is which, it's still apparently possible to beat the system.
Fair officials in one central Indiana county firmly believe that a calf sold at their auction and resold innocently by the buyer to a third party, claiming to want freezer beef, wound up in a county fair show in a neighboring county the next week. And not only did it show up, it won. The only reason it didn't go through the sale and net the impostor steer's new owner a potful of money was because someone's conscience kicked in, and fair officials from the original county arrived on the scene, armed with retinal scans, just before the sale. The only reason they don't have absolute proof instead of circumstantial evidence is because one Extension official at the new county allowed the individual to pull the animal from the sale and place it in his trailer, and padlock the trailer gate. The animal did not sell in the sale.
By the way, if you're so compelled to cheat, buy a black calf. A blue-roan shorthorn with a distinctive, unusual-shaped marking on one side is pretty easy to spot, even without a retinal scan.
The biggest loser in this story is the perpetrator's son. If this story is true, he showed a calf he had only had for a week, and he had to know it wasn't right. What kind of lesson is he learning from 4-H, and from his father? What kind of person will he grow up to be?
It's time for all cheating to stop. It can start by clamping down on blatant cheating, which 4-H officials have tried to do for years now. This incident proves the system is still not foolproof.
Then it needs to move down to the personal level. Only the family exhibiting the animal knows if it's an honest animal, in the right class and not doctored in any way. If the shoe fits and you won't stop cheating for yourself, stop for your kids. And stop for agriculture in general. This isn't the image agriculture needs to portray to the general public. It's certainly not the message 4-H wants to send to other people.