Three girls with three sheep

Download the audio version

4-H animal projects help youth raise and care for an animal as they learn about the nutrition and management of specific species. At the same time, the projects foster life skills in decision making, nurturing, self-motivation, and resilience. Youth learn this knowledge and acquire these skills and abilities through the support of positive adult mentors. In an effort to provide educational tools to the adults involved with youth in 4-H animal projects, an Animal Livestock Focus Group was formed to evaluate key topics affecting Indiana 4-H animal projects. The topic that rose to the top was animal ethics. A design team guided by Indiana 4-H State Specialist Aaron Fisher was selected to create an educational program for adults to learn more about animal ethics in 4-H. To reach the most adults possible, the design team decided to deliver the content via online learning modules.

Before the official launch of the online learning program, the design team wanted to share a conversation on its purpose, goals, and content. Indiana 4-H State Specialist Aaron Fisher guides the conversation, and Purdue Extension 4-H Educators Amanda Veenhuizen (Shelby County), Rebecca Wilkins (Harrison County), and Julie Wilson (Randolph County) give insight into this new program.

Aaron Fisher (AF): Thank you for being here today. Can each of you share why you’ve chosen to be involved in this ethics program? 

Amanda Veenhuizen (AV): Sure. I grew up with animals — horses, specifically — so I am really interested in animal well-being and furthering this kind of program.

Julie Wilson (JW):  I grew up in the sheep and livestock industry, and I see how important ethics are by working at the State Fair and county fair. It’s very important for youth and adults to understand that.

Rebecca Wilkins (RW): I’m involved because one of my passions is helping youth find their passions. I think supplying tools to parents to help have conversations with their youth about their livestock projects is very important.

AF: Thank you for sharing, and I really appreciate your interest in this. Can you please give us a brief introduction to the program?  

JW: This is a new online program that the Animal Science Livestock Focus Group has developed. It contains four modules, and it’s more or less designed to start that conversation among 4-H volunteers, parents, and members to understand and realize the importance of livestock ethics in the 4-H program. 

Topic Areas in the New Indiana 4-H Online Animal Ethics Program

Purpose of 4-H Livestock Programs. This section discusses the purpose of the 4-H livestock programs, implications for participation with an animal project, and goals of the Online Animal Ethics Program.

Ethical Decision Making. In this section, participants learn about ethics, different ethical perspectives, and the origins of ethical decision making. While working through case studies and examples, participants can learn more about their own ethical decision making.

Public Perceptions. This section helps uncover the different perceptions outsiders have of the animal industry. Participants learn how their role as an adult 4-H mentor can positively affect public perceptions of the livestock industry and 4-H animal projects. This section also provides guidance for talking to and educating the public.

Putting Into Practice. The final section explains and details basic principles for quality assurance. 

AF: Is there a need for such a program?

RW: Yes. 4-H animals make up less than 1 percent of animals in the food chain but represent 98 percent of the residue problems. We do see positive drug violations at the Indiana State Fair and other national shows. The media, of course, has picked up on this over the last few years, and all of this reinforces a negative public perception of youth-raised livestock. Because youth are the members showing these livestock, their reputations suffer. As youth educators, we also work with auction buyers; over the last few years, for various reasons, we have seen these buyers pull back their support in some areas. So we are looking to set a foundation for 4-H families to make ethical decisions while raising and presenting their livestock.

AF: What are some of the goals and learner outcomes for this program?

JW: One goal is that anyone who helps a youth with their livestock project demonstrates positive behavior to mold the youth and educate them on making the best decisions and choosing best practices for their livestock. This leads to improved animal welfare, because youth understand the consequences of their actions. This also helps youth and adults understand why we have rules at the county and state fair levels and the reason behind each of them.

AF: Who is the target audience for this program?

AV: The target audience includes parents and other adult volunteers who are working with the 4-H livestock program. This can be someone selling their animals to a 4-H’er, helping with their grooming, or even giving nutrition advice. It’s a pretty broad audience of adults working with the 4-H livestock program. 

The new Indiana 4-H Online Animal Ethics Program modules are available free of charge at http://purdue.ag/animalethics.

A special thank you to Dr. Marisa Erasmus, who is also a member of the design team.

Animals in youth livestock programs are a source of significant negative publicity for the livestock industry, so we want to conclude this article with a challenge: Will you take responsibility to ensure 4-H youth are learning to ethically raise and exhibit their animals?

You can help change this perception. Will you be part of the solution?

Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.

Amanda Veenhuizen is a 4-H Extension Educator in Shelby County. She provides leadership to the 4-H Youth Development Program in Shelby County and is also a member of the 4-H Animal Science Program team.   

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.

Rebecca Wilkins is a 4-H Extension Educator in Harrison County. She provides leadership to the 4-H Youth Development Program in Harrison County and is also a member of the 4-H Animal Science Program team.  

Julie Wilson is a 4-H Extension Educator in Randolph County. She provides leadership to the 4-H Youth Development Program in Randolph County and is also a member of the 4-H Animal Science Program team.  

Additional Resources:

Animal Drug Testing Programs: Considerations for Youth Livestock Exhibitors

Youth Livestock Exhibitors as Ambassadors for Animal Agriculture

Indiana 4-H Policies and Procedures for 4-H Animal Shows at the Indiana State Fair