June 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB5

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Swine Project Skill Development

Two Iowa studies addressed the question of how effective are 4-H swine projects in helping youth develop lifeskills and subject-matter skills. The studies also addressed which sources of information were used to help support learning. In both studies, participants reported that participation in swine projects had a positive effect on their development of lifeskills and subject-matter skills. Findings also indicate that parents are an important source of information.

Julia Gamon
Associate Professor
Internet address: jgamon@iastate.edu

Ond Pedro Dehegedus-Hetzel
Graduate Assistant

Department of Agricultural Education and Studies
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa

How effective are 4-H swine projects in helping youth develop lifeskills? What about subject-matter skills? Two Iowa studies assessed reactions of youth to these questions. The studies also asked which sources of information they used to help support their learning.

The studies, done in 1990 and again in 1991, used highly reliable questionnaires mailed to 400 randomly selected Iowa 4-H'ers with swine projects. Waguespack's (1988) instrument served as a model for the lifeskill questions and Gamon, Laird, and Roe's (1992) instrument for the subject-matter questions. Response rates were 56% for the 1990 study and 67% for the 1991 study.

The first study used a stratified sample of two swine project members per county, making a total of 200. The second study randomly selected 200 youth from the population of 16-19 year old youth with swine projects. These differences in the population may account for differences in the mean age, 13 years for the first year and 17 years for the second. The population difference may also account for differences in the gender mix, 51% female and 49% male in the general population of swine project members compared to 62% male and 38% female in the 16-19 year old population.

Both studies used a five-point Likert scale for the lifeskill and subject-matter questions. In both studies, participants perceived that participation in swine projects had a positive effect on their development of lifeskills. The general mean value for questions related to acquisition of lifeskills was 3.64 for participants in the 1990 study and 4.07 for participants in the 1991 study. The participants were also positive about their development of swine subject-matter skills. Means for subject-matter skills were somewhat lower than lifeskills, 3.29 in 1990 and 3.44 in 1991. Females rated their acquisition of lifeskills more highly than their acquisition of swine subject-matter. On the other hand, males rated swine subject-matter skills more highly than life skills.

Although respondents stated that they used many sources of information in their swine projects, parents received the highest rating. The mean value for parents was 4.7 in the first study and 4.5 in the second study, both on a five-point scale. The younger respondents rated 4-H materials and bulletins in second place, but the older groups rated them last. Extension staff were among the least used by the younger groups, but they were second, right behind parents, among the older respondents. It is important to note that both these studies assessed perception of the quantity of information received from various sources and did not measure the quality. Another study is needed to measure Extension's role in providing research-based information that would build skills in producing livestock as well as skills for productive, responsible living.

Parents played a strong role in respondents' decision to carry a swine project; the influence of friends was surprisingly low. Responses to the influence of family farm operations were 4.28 for year one and 3.99 for year two. The influence of friends was 1.70 in year one and 2.16 in year two.

According to the findings, the main objective of 4-H programs, development of lifeskills, is being met in swine projects. The acquisition of subject-matter skills, however, could be balanced more with lifeskill development. One way to accomplish this in swine projects would be to increase involvement of agricultural agents in the 4-H program. In doing so, the age of the audience should be taken into account. Written materials seem to be better suited for younger 4-H'ers, while direct contact between extension agents and youth seem more appropriate for older 4-H'ers. Also, subject-matter might be emphasized with younger 4-H'ers, who are the major audience, and lifeskills with those who are older. These two studies found that parents were an important source of information for youth with swine projects. Although parents have traditionally been an important part of 4-H, their roles need to be further expanded.


Waguespack, B. G. (1988). Development of lifeskills of 4-H members in Louisiana. Unpublished master's thesis, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Gamon, J. A., Laird, S., & Roe, R. R. (1992). Life skills of youth: Perceived skill improvement by youth with swine projects. Symposium for Research in Agricultural and Extension Education, Columbus, OH.