The Journal of Extension -

October 2014 // Volume 52 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // v52-5iw7

Urban Youth Develop Life Skills Raising Livestock

Youth living within city limits often have limited opportunity to raise livestock and miss out on a valuable life skill development experience. 4-H Extension educators and community leaders in two southeast Idaho counties worked together developed an Urban Youth Livestock program called Cattle Kids. Through the program, city kids raised 30-day old calves for 10 weeks at their county fairgrounds. They gained hands-on experience during a 3-month period through participation in the comprehensive educational program focused on general calf care and nutrition. Youth and their parents developed life skills and increased knowledge through participation in the project.

Melissa McElprang Cummins
4-H Regional Specialist
Washington State University
Vancouver, Washington

Scott Nash
4-H Extension Educator
University of Idaho
Blackfoot, Idaho


The development of life skills for youth participating in a 4-H or FFA livestock project is well documented. Studies show participating in 4-H livestock projects increases a variety of life skills in youth that they will use in their everyday lives (Rusk, Summerlot-Early, Machtmes, Talbert, & Balschweid, 2003). Youth participating in long-term projects, like raising livestock, can develop a variety of important life skills (Diem & Devitt, 2003). Responsibility, confidence, and commitment are three of the most beneficial life skills identified as helpful by 4-H alumni who participated in livestock projects (Fox, Schroeder, & Lodl, 2003). Youth living within city boundaries are often restricted by ordinances from raising livestock animals on their own properties, therefore limiting the opportunities available to them for this valuable hands-on agricultural experience.

Along with a local businessman, 4-H Extension educators developed the Cattle Kids Program for youth with limited access to raising livestock. The Cattle Kids Program allowed youth living within the city limits in two counties to raise 30 day-old calves at the fairgrounds within the county in which they reside. Local sponsors donated funds to support the program and give the youth an opportunity to earn a small amount of money through this experience.

Goals and Methods

The primary goal of the Cattle Kids program was to give youth living within the city limits the opportunity to develop life skills by participating in a cattle project. Specific outcomes of the program were to help youth understand the cattle industry; gain responsibility through caring for an animal on a daily basis; learn proper livestock management skills, such as health care, nutritional needs, and environmental needs of young calves; learn basic record keeping and communication skills; and to learn basic cattle management skills without a large financial investment. The target audience was any youth, 4-H member or not, living within the city limits. Participants were recruited through news articles, county newsletters, flyers, and word of mouth.

Youth and their parents completed an application process that included a signed agreement clarifying program expectations. A $50 fee was collected to encourage ownership and reinforce the level of commitment. To remove the cost barrier for lower-income youth, those who could not afford to pay the application fee were given the option to have that money subtracted from the income earned at the end of the project. Youth were paid based on the fair market value for bucket calves at the time of the end of the program.

A comprehensive educational program was designed to teach youth and parents skills in three main areas (general calf care, proper nutrition, and fair readiness). The youth and parents attended educational meetings where they learned how to care for and feed their calves, how to recognize a sick calf, how to halter break a calf, and how to show their calves at the fair. They gained hands-on experience by completing the day-to-day calf care, including taking the calf's temperature, cleaning the stalls, feeding and watering, and exercising their animals for about 3 months. The project completed with exhibiting the animal and participating in a showmanship class at the county fair.

At the conclusion of the program, youth completed a post-test and a retrospective survey to evaluate the knowledge and life skills gained. Parents also completed a questionnaire of open-ended questions related to any behavior changes they identified in their kids by participating in the Cattle Kids program.

During the 5 years of the program in one county and 2 years in the other county, 188 youth have raised 258 calves, only losing one. Recently, a study was conducted of the Cattle Kids program to determine the life skills the young people developed through participating in this experience. A total of 70 youth and 36 parents participated in the study. The study was approved through the Institutional Research Office.

Evaluation and Outcomes

The results of the study reported here show a significant increase in the development of life skills and knowledge gain specifically related to the care of a calf and even demonstrated an impact in the way youth behaved at home. This experience may not be exactly like the experience of rural youth when raising livestock for a 4-H project, but it definitely gave the urban youth an opportunity they would otherwise never have. Table 1 shows the results of the retrospective skills checklist youth completed at the end of the program.

Table 1.
Retrospective Skills Checklist Results n=70

Skill Measured Average Response Before Cattle Kids Average Response After Cattle Kids
I know the importance of daily calf care. 2.25 3.95
I know how much to feed my calf each day. 1.3 3.8
I understand how to determine if my calf is sick. 1.5 3.6
I understand that I am responsible to provide clean water for my calf every day. 2.8 4.0
I understand how much work is involved in raising a calf. 1.7 4.0
I know how to take a calf's temperature. 1.3 4.0
I know how to show my calf to a judge. 1.4 3.8

Below are statements from some of the Cattle Kids participants.

  • "It taught me to finish what I start and that I can do hard things."
  • "I learned that taking care of things is harder than it looks."
  • "I learned the importance of hard work and leadership."
  • "Pay attention to everything around you and you will have fun."

After the third year of the program, one of the Extension educators and the businessman met with the Animal and Food Science Department Chair at a local university to discuss the possibility of program participants receiving college scholarships through participation in the Cattle Kids program. The department faculty determined these were the type of students needed in their department. The following guidelines were established: youth need to complete 2 years in the bucket calf program; youth need to apply and be admitted to the university; and youth need to take classes towards a degree in Animal or Food Sciences and maintain a 3.0 GPA each semester to receive a 4-year scholarship.


The Cattle Kids program successfully demonstrated the way experiential learning develops life skills in youth. Through the experience, youth living in the city were given the opportunity to develop valuable life skills by caring for a livestock animal. The program also fostered relationships between 4-H, local businessmen, and farmers. What makes this program particularly unique is its ability to engage youth in life skill development in a way their physical circumstances would not otherwise allow. Further work is needed to expand the program and evaluate its longer-term impacts on the participants.


Diem, K. G., & Devitt, A. (2003). Shifting the focus of 4-H record-keeping from competition and subject matter to youth development and life skills. Journal of Extension [On-line], 44(3). Article 6IAW1. Available at:

Fox, J., Schroeder, D., & Lodl, K. (2003). Life skill development through 4-H clubs: The perspective of 4-H alumni. Journal of Extension [On-line], 41(6). Article 6RIB2. Available at:

Rusk, C. P., Summerlot-Early, J. M., Machtmes, K. L., Talbert, B. A., & Balschweid, M. A. (2003). The impact of raising and exhibiting selected 4-H livestock projects on the development of life and project skills. Journal of Agricultural Education, 44(3), 1-11 Retrieved from:

Ward, C. K. (1996) Life skill development related to participating in 4-H animal science projects. Journal of Extension [On-line], 34(2). Article 2RIB2. Available at: