Developing the next generation of agricultural leaders and advocates is the goal of the Kansas Junior Livestock Show’s LEAD Challenge.
Now in its fifth year, the challenge provides youth an opportunity to learn about current industry, production and animal care issues and then apply that knowledge in a multi-event competition. The four components are “Listen and Learn” sessions, livestock showmanship, skill stations and an interview. Students compete in three age divisions: 7 to 9, 10 to 13, and 14 and over.
In the “Listen and Learn” component, contestants attend three different interactive sessions with content tailored to each age group. Past topics have included animal disease traceability, producer to consumer outreach and industry workforce needs. Livestock showmanship is considered the “in the ring” component. “The LEAD Challenge is a bit unique in that it’s a cross-species leadership competition,” says Brittney Grother, LEAD Challenge coordinator. “People who show pigs are competing against people who show goats; same with cattle and sheep.”
At the skill stations, students demonstrate and apply facets of livestock production and management, everything from daily nutrition and proper management techniques to knowledge of animal reproductive tracts. They present that knowledge by creating flyers, a prepared speech or an extemporaneous speech, depending on their age division.
Parents of the young competitors especially like the interviews, according to Grother. “The interview component gives each student the opportunity to give a judge a good handshake and answer questions about his or her experiences,” Grother says. “That’s definitely something they can apply in the real world when they interview for a scholarship or job.”
The challenge began at the suggestion of the Kansas Junior Livestock Show’s major sponsors: Cargill Protein, Merck Animal Health and Seaboard Foods. “They came to the show board and said they would like to see an education and advocacy contest held in conjunction with the livestock show,” Grother says. “A couple of board members began researching similar competitions and ways to make the challenge unique, and it took off from there.”
Cash prizes for first place range from $300 to $500, depending on the age division, but contestants gain precious experience competing in the LEAD Challenge. “Exhibitors are already gaining valuable life skills by showing their livestock,” Grother says. “But by participating in the LEAD Challenge, participants are going above and beyond what is asked of them during a busy show weekend to further develop their leadership skills in becoming strong advocates for the agriculture industry.”