4-H programs praised for building business skills

More than 230 animals were sold at the latest 4-H livestock auction, fetching a total of more than $500,000. (Photo courtesy Mickie Fisher-Rogers)
More than 230 animals were sold at the latest 4-H livestock auction, fetching a total of more than $500,000. (Photo courtesy Mickie Fisher-Rogers)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Mickie Fisher-Rogers believes everything she really needs to know about running a business she learned raising livestock in 4-H programs. That includes accounting, marketing and, especially, the value of hard work.

“All those things made a big difference in my life,” said Fisher-Rogers, owner and mortgage broker of Grand Valley Home Loans in Fruita.

That’s why Fisher-Rogers now participates as a bidder in the annual Mesa County 4-H livestock auction and encourages other business owners and managers to bid as well. It’s an opportunity, she said, to support the children and programs that develop skills and character. “You’re making a difference in their lives.”

Tom Benton, co-chairman of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce committee that helps stage the livestock auction, couldn’t agree more.

Participants in 4-H livestock programs learn skills that can help them in careers in not only the agricultural industry, but also other sectors, Benton said.

A former 4-H participant himself, Benton went on to become a bank executive and now serves as director of the Maverick Innovation Center at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

Benton said he’s encouraged participation in 4-H programs in Mesa County, including livestock programs, has held steady even as participation in other youth programs has declined. Nationwide, about 6 million children participate in a variety of 4-H programs.

Bonnie Powell, Mesa County 4-H advisor with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, said 4-H not only teaches skills related to a specific program, but also responsibility and leadership. “That’s what 4-H is all about.”

Participants in livestock programs raise beef, goats, poultry, rabbits, sheep and swine. They show their animals and then sell them at auction.

Benton said the programs teach participants about caring for animals, including nutrition and diagnosing and treating health issues. Participants also have to track the expenses involved in raising their animals. As the auction nears, participants often become creative in marketing their animals to potential bidders, he said. The process turns even the most introverted participants into extroverts skilled at selling their products.

Fisher-Rogers said participants in the 4-H livestock programs also learn rewards follow hard work. “They don’t make any money until that animal is sold.”

More than 230 animals were sold in the latest 4-H livestock auction, fetching a total of more than $500,000.

Fisher-Rogers and Benton said people can participate in the livestock auction in a variety of ways — including submitting the winning bid and keeping the processed meat from the animal.

In addition, though, people can give individual 4-H participants what are called add-ons — money added to what they receive from the winning bid in the auction.

Auction participants who don’t necessarily want the meat can take advantage of a buy-back program in which the meat is purchased at a market rate per pound and the winning bidder pays the difference.

Fisher-Rogers encouraged auction participants who don’t want to bid on their own to join with others in what she called buyers’ clubs to go together on bids and divide the costs. Businesses enjoy additional benefits from participating in the auction in the publicity they receive for buying animals, she said.

The big benefit, though, is supporting 4-H participants, Fisher-Rogers said. “I just think you make a well-rounded child. It builds character like you can’t believe.”

Fisher-Rogers said she was among the fifth generation of her family to participate in 4-H livestock programs and her children now participate.

She said she learned a lot of the skills upon which she still draws in running her in mortgage brokerage. “I’m not afraid of hard work. That’s for sure.”