Puyallup, WA – Many consumers give little thought when picking up a piece of meat at the grocery store. Wrapped in cellophane it has no smell, no blood, no life. Vegans and vegetarians will tell you not to eat it because it’s unhealthy and harmful to animals. Carnivores will tell you should eat it for sustenance and flavor.
But no one knows what truly goes into the packaging like students in the 4H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) who participate in the annual Northwest Junior Livestock show held this year on April 15-19th during the Washington State Spring Fair. Raising their animals since they were little piglets, lambs and calves, students from across the state spent 3 – 6 months learning lessons in leadership and animal husbandry. Over the weekend they showcase their projects for each animal’s first, and final, time and become aware of the value of their meat from an emotional and financial standpoint.
This year 150 FFA and 4H students sold 25 lambs, 158 hogs and 15 steer earning $195,000 in sales. All proceeds went to the students.
Originally started 70 years ago at the Auburn stockyards, the Northwest Junior Livestock Show moved to the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup in 1990. It is a “terminal” show, meaning that animals entered, don’t come back out. Instead they head to the meat packing house.
Ellen Schmitz, Secretary and Treasurer of the Northwest Junior Livestock Show says the show is terminal to ensure the animals don’t end up being shown by another student at another fair who didn’t actually raise it.
Initially each student buys their animal from a breeder known for good quality livestock. The students then select, raise and train their animal for 3-6 months. “It’s their work,” says Schmitz. “You have to learn to work with your animal and the animal learns to work with you.”
The Washington state FFA program had 7,334 student members in the 2013-2014 school year.