By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – A new group of young “ambassadors” is getting ready for this spring’s Canadian County Youth Livestock Show as they anticipate the annual county fair in August.
The Canadian County Herdsmanship Youth Advisory Board is comprised of student leaders from the county’s FFA chapters and 4-H clubs.
“This is the first one … the ‘pilot’ group,” said advisor Alexis Graham, a Canadian County 4-H extension educator. “They’re blazing a frontier. They’re the ones getting it all started.
“They’re the ambassadors, leading the way and cheerleading their chapters and clubs to be the best. Be the ‘top gun’. Be the ones that keep their area the neatest, that are showing sportsmanship and kindness to one another. And showing they know a lot about their animals and how to care for them.”
This is a joint initiative of the Canadian County Fair Board, Canadian County OSU Extension Office and the county’s agriculture education instructors. The Canadian County Farm Bureau is the sponsor.
The goal of the new program is finding new ways to incorporate a positive atmosphere while maintaining integrity, stewardship and sportsmanship in youth livestock competition.
“The Fair Board wanted to have a junior group of advisors – an ambassador program – to demonstrate the positive aspect of showing livestock and the values of having livestock for kids from 4-H through high school,” said advisor Todd Branson, also a Canadian County 4-H educator.
“They’re just getting started, getting their ‘feet wet’. This program will show adults quite a bit about the passions these kids have and the teamwork they bring forward, not only from their chapters and 4-H clubs, but to a livestock show as a whole.”
The Canadian County Herdsmanship Youth Advisory Board meets at the Canadian County Expo & Event Center, 3001 Jensen Road East. Opened in July 2021, this spacious venue hosts the county’s free fair and spring livestock show.
Advisory board members are Makenna Branson, Canadian County 4-H; Aspen Burns, Calumet FFA; Aubrey Rakestraw, El Reno FFA; Emery Bowers, Mustang FFA; Chyenn Stuckey, Union City FFA; and Brooklyn Beams, Yukon FFA.
Beams, a sophomore at Yukon High School, seemed destined to be part of this inaugural group. That’s became her father Dustin is a Yukon FFA advisor.
“This is something I can do to improve my resume, and it’s also a way I can help my county,” she said.
Branson is Canadian County’s 4-H president and daughter of the county advisor. There are 18 clubs across Canadian County.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I’m excited to help all the 4-H kids stay involved with everything in Canadian County,” she said.
Since Rakestraw wants to seek a state FFA officer position, her teachers told her this program would be an ideal leadership opportunity.
“They thought it would give me an insight to how to work with a different group of people that aren’t my closest peers,” the El Reno student said. “It’s a great opportunity to see how great minds think alike.”
Stuckey has loved the experience after agreeing to join the Canadian County Herdsmanship Youth Advisory Board.
“Everybody’s been welcoming and kind,” the Union City student said. “My teacher told me about this program and said this would be a great opportunity for me since I was going to run for state office.”
Likewise, Bowers has embraced this experience because it’s allowed her to work with youth leaders from other Canadian County chapters.
“This is a good leadership program,” the Mustang junior said. “I’m learning a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.”
Burns also found out about this new youth advisory board from her teacher.
The Calumet sophomore realizes her participation will help both her and the school’s FFA chapter.
“It sounded like a really good opportunity for everybody to do,” she said.
The six herdsmanship youth ambassadors are “fantastic” for Canadian County, according to County Fair Board Member Phil Carson.
“I personally know all these herdsmanship members,” said Carson, a former three-term Canadian County commissioner. “They’ve been real good with all their programs.
“It’s a super position for these kids to be in. It even goes past high school – it can go on into college, into getting degrees. It’s a good thing to have on their resume.”
Youth advisory board members will work with Canadian County’s FFA chapters and 4-H clubs to help youth livestock exhibitors – from showing animals and keeping the stalls clean, Carson added.
“So, the public can walk down the aisles and view the animals” during county livestock shows, he said.
The Canadian County Expo & Event Center staff is thrilled to have the ambassadors on board.
Expo & Event Center office manager Mandy Davis hopes all youth livestock exhibitors take pride in where they show their animals.
“I want them to feel like they are wanted here and welcome here, and that they can brag to other people that ‘we get to show in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility’,” Davis said.
“This program gives these students a voice. Sometimes, in our wanting to ‘do the right thing’ as adults, we often silence the brilliance of youth. I am so excited to hear their voices. Let them have some ownership. Let them flex their leadership muscles. And those types of skills will lead far past the show ring.”
Any member of a Canadian County FFA chapter or 4-H club is welcome to participate in this new youth advisory group.
“It seemed to make sense for all of the chapters to choose someone who was on their officer team,” 4-H educator Graham said. “But anybody is eligible. They just have to show an interest in extra leadership responsibilities.”
Fellow 4-H educator Branson is confident this program will continue to grow and evolve.
“Once we get past the spring livestock show, these students are going to be laser focused on ways to improve the county fair – from a herdsmanship perspective as a livestock exhibitor, but also as a junior educator when the general public comes in,” he said.
“There’s a lot of growth opportunities here. It’s a great step forward. I appreciate our Fair Board allowing us to have this opportunity to let 4-H and FFA ‘team together’ for the future of the Canadian County livestock program.”