The summer of 2020 will long be remembered for cancellations and modifications of many traditional activities. Overnight summer camps have closed their doors, county fairs have cancelled and sporting events are starting to take place without spectators. Luckily for Madison County livestock 4-H members, one summer tradition has survived and been adapted for the new COVID-19 world.
Early on, during the first weeks of Governor Northam’s stay-at-home order, 4-H leaders and 4-H Extension Agent Kelly Mallory began exploring possible options for the livestock members to be able to exhibit their projects. Unlike many other 4-H projects which can be planned and completed within a few weeks of the fair, livestock projects begin several months before the annual summer event. Beef and dairy beef projects have a January weigh-in, hogs have an April weigh-in and sheep and goats have a May weigh-in. The beef and dairy beef projects began long before the pandemic changed day-to-day life and there was still a possibility of the 2020 Madison County Fair happening when the sheep and goats were weighed-in. Mallory wanted to have options for the youth who had devoted time, money and effort into their 2020 projects.
“We have been doing a lot of our programming online since the COVID crisis began,” said Mallory. “Some of these 4-Hers have been feeding and caring for these animals since the beginning of 2020 and have put a lot of time and effort into their animals. We watched how other groups managed shows in an online format and decided it was the safest way to proceed.”
Exhibitors will be submitting photos and videos of their animals this week and the placings and awards will be announced July 15-17. The show website was expected to be open for public viewing beginning July 8.
The online forum presents some different challenges. Just like in previous years, 4-Hers used the holiday weekend to ready their projects. Mallory noted that instead of the usual challenges of transporting animals and keeping them comfortable in the show barn, this year’s challenges are in videoing the livestock.
“It sounds much easier than it really is,” said Mallory. “I told everyone to start getting their videos together. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the video. Animals don’t always want to cooperate. My kids are in 4-H too and I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t as easy as you’d think.”
Hunter Collier, a participant in the virtual show, said there were some good and bad aspects to the format.
“The worst part of online showing is not being able to be with my 4-H friends in the barn,” said Collier. “Also, I’m not sure that you can judge an animal as well with video, not seeing them or touching them. The good part is not having to pack everything up. We get to show in the front yard!”
Collier’s mother Nita also will miss the camaraderie of the livestock barn this year.
“I certainly will miss the 4-H family and all the experience of the fair this year,” said Nita Collier. “When life gives you lemons make lemonade! We are trying to let the kids show off the hard work they’ve put into their animals.”
Traditionally, market animals are sold at an auction at the fair. This year instead of an auction there will be an online support platform running along with the virtual show. Donors can sign in and pledge financial support to any of the exhibitors. No animals will be sold on the platform. Exhibitors will retain ownership and can keep the animals to show at future events like the Virginia State Fair, make arrangements to butcher the animals or sell them at a livestock market. Normally the animals are sold at the fair for well above market price which enables 4-Hers to pay for feed and replacement animals for the next year or save for higher education.
Mallory has encouraged the youth to contact local businesses to ask for their support much as they would invite them to the traditional auction.
“It’s important that they reach out to the business community, marketing is an important part of the experience,” said Mallory. “Livestock projects teach life skills like decision making, responsibility and goal setting.”
Potential donors can log on to the show site to view all the projects and see information about the youth. There will be a “donate here” button to pledge support for an exhibitor. Donors can contribute to as many exhibitors as they choose and can also pledge support to Madison County 4-H clubs and the Madison County Fair Association. Donors will receive an invoice for their support the week after closing and will mail checks directly to the 4-H members. The support platform will run July 17-21.
The website for the show is https://bit.ly/Mad4-HVirtualShow and the website for the online support is https://bit.ly/Mad4-HVirtualSale. Potential sponsors without internet access can call the Madison Extension Office at (540) 948-6881 during business hours to pledge support.