4-H works to develop a virtual youth livestock program

Lauren Sroubek

Growing up, some children were not allowed to own a pet of any kind because of all of the responsibilities, financial or personal issues. The 4-H Youth Development Organization is now starting to develop a program to virtually raise an animal.

Amy Powell, an ISU animal science extension specialist hired by 4-H, is helping develop a curriculum program that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math skills, also known as STEM.

“We trick children into learning science,” Powell explained. “They learn and they don’t even realize it.”

The program is just beginning to develop. Objectives, components and the overall layout are still being talked about. Powell will also need to conduct assessments by talking to parents, volunteer leaders and county staff.

Some objectives within the program include creating hands-on experiences for the youth who are interested in animal science. It will teach youth in grades four through 12 the importance in producing high quality educational development, how to manufacture food supply in the livestock industry and create future scientists according to a flyer titled Focusing on the Science Behind 4-H Livestock Projects.

In addition, the program will educate the public as a whole about the benefits of the industry.

“It’s important that people understand that the livestock industry raises, feeds and supports the world,” Powell said. “People need to be advocates and educated about [how] raising animals is humane.”

The program will mainly focus on the aspects of animal science, which includes nutrition, genetics, meat science, reproduction, growth and development of livestock.

“Hopefully Iowa State will [be] looked upon as a leader for STEM in animal science,” Powell said. “[We also] hope that more students will attend ISU. It’s a good recruitment tool.”

This program will allow people who are interested in livestock to have the opportunity to virtually raise animals without worrying about factors such as access to the animal, financial issues, unfitting environment, limited resources and more.

“This type of program has not been created before,” Powell said.

Although the main focus has been identified, Powell and her team must find the right gaming company that will support this project. Powell is currently negotiating with several companies that will assist 4-H in completing the ultimate virtual experience.

Michael Anderson, state 4-H livestock program specialist, is also involved in developing the new curriculum. Anderson manages the 4-H agriculture programs, events and activities. He also is in charge of the Food Safety Quality and Assurance Program (FSQA).

Anderson’s position entails developing curriculum for the youth to understand animal care, animal well-being and livestock production.

“Since kids are always online, either on Facebook or YouTube, interactive games about animal science is something they will be more engaged in rather than reading,” Anderson said.

Interactive gaming will easily target the youth because that’s where kids spend their time. Children will be more involved and comprehend agriculture commodity topics such as buying, raising, selling and maintaining farm animals.

Anderson predicts that this program will take several years to complete, and hopes that this will be a national educational tool to teach 4-H members and the community about the significance of animal science.