Friday, June 24, 2011

Does 4-H Desensitize Kids to Killing? A 4-H Alumni's Response

A lot of buzz is being created in the blogging world this week over a recent article published by CNN.

In their "Eatocracy" section of their website, the article, "Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?" has elicited over 1300 comments, from both sides of the argument.

Read the article here. It's very short, but you'll want to scroll through the comments as well.

The article is a follow-up to another Eatocracy article entitled, "Five Reasons to Buy From Your Local 4-H." Apparently comments on this piece generated a large response that 4-H is not something to support, and it is turning children into insensitive, cold-blooded sociopaths.

I was a member of 4-H for 10 years, with 9 beef steers, 8 beef females, and 1 lamb. I just wrapped up my two-year service as an Alberta 4-H Ambassador, and I was named Premier Award winner for Alberta 4-H in 2009.

To say this article and it's comments hit home for me is an understatement.

This is something I need to say.

Nowhere in my ten years as a 4-H member or 18 years as a beef producer have I ever considered myself insensitive towards the wellbeing of my animals. I worked tirelessly on each of my 4-H steers, feeding them twice daily, halterbreaking(training them to lead), washing, clipping, and training them for the show. There's no greater feeling than all your hard work paying off by a success in the showring.

Another great feeling is the one experienced when your animal is auctioned off to a supportive member of your community. The higher the price, the better, as every cent of profits from my 4-H calves went towards my education fund.

My first year, I cried like a baby. My steer, Toby, weighed in at only 1175 lbs in July (quite small for a feedlot steer), and placed close to the bottom of his class, but I loved him anyways. I was sad to see him go, and didn't understand why I couldn't just keep him in our backyard. At nine years old, Toby was a pet to me.

I became less emotional about the whole process in the years to follow. Does this mean I was "desensitized to killing?" Absolutely not. I understood the purpose of my animals. Beef steers serve an amazing purpose- feeding hungry people- and I was part of that. I felt happy when thanking my steer's buyer because he now had quality beef to feed his family with, rather than upset he was taking my steer away.

I did learn the difference between pets and food animals, and quite easily. It makes perfect sense to me that when I start working with an animal, they have an ultimate purpose and I work my hardest to make them the best meat steer, mother cow, or breeding bull that I can. I still become attached to some of my animals. They each have distinct personalities, sweet spots to scratch, and actions to avoid when working with them. However, the connection I have with them comes with an understanding of their purpose.

"4-H develops leadership, communication, technical and life skills of 4-H
members and leaders to strengthen communities." (Alberta 4-H)
Research outlined here describes how 4-H members have been proved twice as likely to go to college, more successful academically, healthier, and more active in their communities. Sounds like a regular cold-blooded killer to me. (

What I think many of the commenters on this article do not understand is this: cattle are not pets. Nor does 4-H try to give kids that impression. Death is a part of life, and beef animals serve a purpose to our world that we couldn't survive without.

Preparing an animal for a 4-H show is no small task
I consider "insensitive" one of the worst possible things you could call a 4-H member or alumni like myself, as well as the most inaccurate. Every time one of my animals looks ill or uncomfortable, I do everything in my power to correct it. I have stayed up all night trying to revive a calf that was born backwards with mucous-filled lungs. I have worked tirelessly to halterbreak a hiefer only to have her run away from me in the showring. I have been stepped on, drug through the mud, charged at, and kicked numerous times by my own animals, but loved them regardless.

If that is considered unsensitive, sociopathic, and cruel, I suppose I need new definitions of those words.

I'd like to know your thoughts on the issue. I know it was hard for me to get through this article without getting emotional. If you are or were a 4-H member, how does this article make you feel? If you were never part of 4-H, what is your view?


  1. Hey Rosie!
    as a fellow beef 4H alumni I think you have hit the nail on the head. I defiantly do not feel as if I was desensitised to killing. I am aware that there is a difference between food animals and pet animals, and that although I spend countless hours working with a 4H steer to make sure that they are healthy, and ready for the show ring I knew that they would ultimately be sold to feed people. We do everything we can to care for these animals and make sure that they are treated humanely. I have learned a lot through 4H but “having no emotional attachment to animals raised for food” is defiantly not one of them. I believe you have made a very good argument here and I defiantly agree with you!

  2. Thanks for writing about this. I completely agree with you. My brothers and I are also 4-H alumni. I agree that most people don't realize that cattle are not pets. They're raised to eventually be slaughtered and fed to hungry people.

  3. Thanks for your comments, ladies. As soon as I saw the article I knew it was something I had to clear up. People involved in 4-H like the two of you fully understand the benefits of the program. I hope those without a 4-H background can come to understand that as well.

  4. Rosie, I just took a look at that CNN article, that is the most crude and outrageous thing I have ever read. 4-H members are not in the least bit desensitized, we all cry at the loss of our 4-H steers, we just allow the loss to build us into a more educated and aware agricultural youth. Your stance against the article is exactly what the writer of the article needs to take a look at. Good job, and thanks for bringing my attention to it!

  5. You make a reasoned and rational rebuttal Rosie. I agree. Thanks!

  6. You definitely hit the nail on the head! That's exactly everything I wanted to put into words myself.

  7. When I read the article about 4-H desensitizing children I actually laughed! I think your comments are awesome Rosie, you said it perfectly!

  8. Thanks for taking the time to read up on this and comment. It truly is ridiculous that someone would ever think of 4-H this way, and I'm glad you all recognize that!