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Involving Youth in the Future

Nearly every breed of cattle today has not only an association for the breeders and promoters to network and share ideas and information, they also have junior associations for youth involved with the breed. Why? Because junior associations keep youth active in the industry from an early age, something that is critical when it comes to keeping future generations interested in the pedigreed livestock industry.

“Having the junior association is important,” says Shane Goss, advisor to the American Junior Aberdeen Association (AJAA) Board of Directors. “That goes for any breed or association. It’s critical for the future of the breed and the cattle industry as a whole.”

Goss has been a member of the American Aberdeen Association for many years and started advising the junior board last year. He and the other advisors, Darwin Engelkes and Kiersten Beilke, are mainly there to keep the AJAA Board members on track. When the new group of advisors first began in their roles, one of their goals was to allow the junior board to really become the guiding force for the junior association and to use the board as a learning tool for the youth.

“They got selected, therefore we felt it was important to give those young people the opportunity to take the driver’s seat and make the decisions for the association, just like our senior board does,” Goss says.

And their approach is working out well. The junior board holds many responsibilities throughout the year. The board plans and hosts the American Junior Aberdeen Association National Show and Competition, which includes an ultrasound competition, showmanship competitions, a quiz bowl, team marketing competition and demonstration, a fitting demonstration and competition, livestock judging contest and, of course, the livestock show along with many other fun activities. The board also puts together the AJAA junior show in Denver, Colo., and hosts fundraisers during the year to raise money for both of the shows and for a scholarship fund for AJAA members.

“They decide on the location of junior nationals, they decide what they want to budget for this or that, they choose awards; the junior board makes all the decisions,” Goss says. “We just make sure that they don’t do anything silly or get out of hand with costs. They really are the guiding force though.”

It was that responsibility while serving on the AJAA Board that impacted Courteney Walker so much. To her, the junior association is about making friends, building contacts and learning about the livestock industry, all in an atmosphere where everyone was willing to help everyone, but the board took everything a few steps further. Walker served on the junior board for four years during her time with the association and says the experience was nothing short of life changing.

“The things that the junior board provided for me and my sister, it was invaluable,” she says. “Interpersonal skills are probably the biggest thing. We had to learn how to interact with so many different types of people.”

From having an intelligent conversation with adults, to turning around and being able to connect with a group of 4-year-olds, to learning how to work as a group and communicate with her peers, Walker says the skills she developed have continued to help has as she continues through her schooling to become a veterinarian.

“You don’t realize at the time just how much it’s really helping you,” she says. “But when you go out into the world and have to work on group projects in college with people from different communities or when you go to work, you really understand how to work with other people.”

For Marcus Gatewood, it was his time serving on the AJAA Board that helped him get more comfortable serving in leadership roles, and he recommends the junior association, or even applying to be on the board, to all youth.

“For showmen not old enough for 4-H, it’s great because the cattle aren’t 1,500 pounds and pushing them around the ring,” he says. “For me, I saw it as a way to get into the livestock industry, and I was able to meet people from all over that I eventually sold calves to.”

During Walker’s time on the junior board, she and her fellow board members were able to freshen up older events and add new events to the schedule, such as meat judging, public speaking and marketing contests, and a market beef show thanks to the freedom their advisors gave them.

“Everything about the board and the junior association was a great opportunity,” Walker says.

If anyone is considering applying for an AJAA Board position, Walker encourages them to talk to the current board members, ask questions and get a feeling for what the current junior board’s goals are and what they’re trying to do, then see where they fit in.

“When you run, you’re a leader and people are looking at you all the time, so be your best person and just help the board move forward in the growth and development of the members and ultimately the breed.”

By Hannah Johlman, Freelance Writer