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The City Journals

Cattle and goats and hogs—Oh my! Raising and marketing livestock key to the 4-H experience at county fair

Nov 06, 2019 04:27PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

“Are you in the market for a lamb today?” 10-year-old Aylah Shipley of Herriman pitches to Doug Young Land and Livestock purchasing agent Chris Ashcroft at the Salt Lake County Fair in early August. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected] 

Brock Ashcroft sat across from his father, the two silent except for their munching. 

Eyeing the inside of the West Jordan Arctic Circle, the boy’s chewing stopped, mouth open, his eyes focusing on a framed advertisement promoting the “Black Angus Beef Burger.”

Moments later, young Brock was standing at the counter.

The restaurant manager leaned on the counter, bending down to give the youngster his attention.

The 8-year-old had just set in motion his first sponsor and learned some lessons in communications and marketing. 

Learning marketing, sales and farm-preneurship—the 4-H way

While not typically something one may consider being a part of a livestock operation or a “4-H” youth education program, sales, marketing and “farm-preneurship” are indeed all part of the experience.

While you will no longer find the description on its website, 4-H is an acronym that stands for what founders of the national youth-development program viewed as four aspects of leadership which all started with the letter “H.”

4-H began in 1902 and was focused on developing the country’s rural youth.

In joining the organization, young people aged 8-18 pledge to abide the four H’s: “head to clearer thinking… heart to greater loyalty… hands to larger service… and health to better living… for club… community… country… and world.”

4-H’s emblem, the lucky four-leaf green clover, portrays each “H” on each leaf.

In line with the concept of traditional 4-H activities like animal husbandry and gardening, the organization’s motto and promise is “True leaders aren’t born—they’re grown.”

4-H at the Salt Lake County Fair

In early August budding leaders from Salt Lake County—and even some traveling from far-flung areas across Utah—gathered at the South Jordan Equestrian Center for the annual Salt Lake County Fair.

Event sponsors include ones you might expect—host Salt Lake County, IFA Country Stores, the Utah Farm Bureau, the USU Agricultural Extension, and even West Jordan’s Smith & Edwards. However, the passions behind some of the other sponsors seemed less clear upfront (e.g. Les Schwab Tire Center and Olympia Hills; Schwab is the perennial sponsor of the cattle, and Olympia Hills’s developer Doug Young buys a variety of animals for his livestock company).

Chris Ashcroft, uncle to his brother’s son, once-8-year-old Arctic Circle salesperson Brock Ashcroft, recalls as a young 4-H-er the daily ritual of waking early to clean the barn, then bathing and feeding the animals, and, then walking and re-walking a prize-potential steer.

“We had a calf we thought was going to win,” he shares, indicating that his father and he would both, book-ending the calf, walk two miles in the morning and another two at night, developing the animal. Through the process, they enjoyed the more important developing—deepening their father-son relationship.

As he shares the story about his first calf and lessons learned from his father, Chris does not feel the need to mention whether or not the calf won a prize at the fair.

Ashcroft’s eye is on the greater prize—what he sees as the unique family connection gained through agrarian lifestyle, which is, he rightly observes, is greatly vanishing along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. This, he believes, is one reason why 4-H is so important.

Why 4-H skills contribute to leadership

In attendance at this year’s fair was Miss Utah USA Heather Anderson, who grew up a 4-H girl who has become an in-demand runway and editorial model.

Looking like all that and maybe more may be in the future, are the 18- and 15-year-old Perry sisters. 

Hailing from Riverton, the two young women are on their seventh and sixth years, respectively, in the 4-H program.

The elder sister, Teagan, is up in Logan this fall—a freshman studying Animal Science at Utah State University.

Addison, who plays soccer in the competitive USA soccer league, as well on Riverton High School’s own team, says 4-H transformed her from a shy person to the kind of young woman who now walks up to complete strangers and pitches them on buying her prized pig, Raunti.

“[4-H] has,” she says, still a bit shy, “gotten me out of my comfort zone.”

Flexing their marketing skills

At the fair the Perry gals try to one-up the other youth. The pair market themselves—and their work to raise, literally, dueling pigs. They generously distribute water bottles and goodie bags with Snickers, M&Ms and other treats.

These youth are savvy marketers—targeted marketers, who are keenly focused on a series of tables squarely situated just outside the ring, in front of the bleachers set up several feet behind. 

In these front-row seats, sit people with clipboards, notes, pencils, stenciled number, and—most importantly—checkbooks.

The bold, black numbers are their bidding markers. These are the Les Schwabs and the Doug Young Land and Livestock representatives and others--who will vie to support the work of the young people and purchase pigs (or “hogs”), cattle, goats, and sheep.

Sitting with the people with checkbooks

“Are you in the market for a lamb today?”

The voice beseeches Ashcroft, who today is standing in as a purchasing agent for Doug Young. It is the soft, but surprisingly confident voice of 10-year-old Aylah Shipley, a sixth-grader from Herriman. 

She wears a crisp-pressed, long-sleeved white shirt with the 4-H clover on the sleeve. Her perfectly-styled bun may look more like what you would expect to see at a ballet performance than a livestock auction.

Next in Ashcroft is 12-year-old Draper seventh-grader Ben Street. 

Street boldly, abruptly approaches Ashcroft. It is a boy’s approach: “I wondered if you would like to buy my goat?” 

Without really waiting for a response from Ashcroft, he volunteers: “He is not the heaviest goat, but…”

Street is a lucky kid, who—not having land for animals himself—-boards his animals at a relative’s place.

The relative is 10-year-old Faith Dent, a fourth-grader from Draper. She says she is nervous but happy to be at the fair, and “happy, every day, to have a goat in my front yard.”

Longing for ‘the life’

Having a goat or other livestock in the front yard is no longer the daily reality of Chris or his brother Curtis, both of whom grew up on a West Jordan farm. 

Chris now resides in Bluffdale and Curtis in South Jordan. The farm, complete with livestock, is managed by both the men’s nephew, Preston Carlson.

However, 4-H and the connectivity it brings those in rural communities and those still longing for “the life” seem to keep them and their family in the tradition.

Curtis Ashcroft still wipes away tears, remembering his father, the farmer and livestock whisperer. 

Other tears came decades ago when young Curtis, showing for the first time in the 4-H Junior Livestock competition, could not bear to present his beloved steer for sale—knowing that the animal’s ultimate destiny was for slaughter—and had to turn the responsibility over to his older brother.

‘You’ve got to look ahead’

Curtis’s son Brock, the one who as a first-timer nailed Arctic Circle as a client—married a woman he met through 4-H. 

When they first met, Kayla was too young to be in 4-H. She then grew into a youngster who showed lambs, then a gal who literally and physically looked up to the handsome cowpoke, and then became the lovely, talented woman he married.

The two now have a 3-year-old daughter, Paisley, and reside in Herriman.

Sitting in the buyer’s row at the fair, Ashcroft coaches on how to best assess cattle’s potential to become the best-possible sources for beef. 

It is advice that appears to apply in life itself: “You’ve got to look ahead—look for potential.”