January's arrival is much more than the beginning of a new year for folks involved in the livestock industry across the state. In Texas, that means the annual livestock show and rodeo season is getting underway.

For thousands of youngsters who are involved in the 4-H and FFA programs across Texas, excitement is building. That is especially true for those who have projects that will be exhibited in statewide livestock shows in the weeks and months ahead. No matter what the project - livestock, poultry or shop related - a lot of extra work goes into getting them in show shape for competitive judging events.

As the show dates approach, these youth focus on getting their animals and shop projects looking their best and being fully prepared to present their projects to the very best of their ability. Of course, parents have a definite coaching and cheerleading role with their children who are conducting these projects.

This can be a tremendous family bonding experience and it can produce some of the most memorable and enjoyable family experiences of a lifetime. The key is for parents to be supportive and encouraging along the way, doing things with them, but not all the work for them.

Parents must avoid the temptation of taking over all the responsibilities associated with these projects. That approach has a way of dampening the spirits of the child, which often results in the loss of interest in carrying out future projects.

Too much hands-on by parents in an effort to produce that championship winning project sends negative messages to our youngsters about the confidence their parents have in the ability of their child to perform to the satisfaction of their parents.

Over the years, I have made hundreds of inquires during the course of a casual conversation, posing questions like, "How are those show projects coming along?"

When the parents' reply begins with "My" steer or "My" pigs or "My" lambs, it has a way of throwing up a red flag that the parent may be doing more than coaching and training. So many times I have heard that type of response when the 4-H or FFA member was present.

I have often wondered if the feeling of ownership and pride in the project on the part of the child is diminished by hearing his or her parents' reply in that manner. On the other hand, I am reassured when parents immediately encourage a response by looking at their child and saying something like, "Tell this gentleman how your projects is doing."

This type of a response has a way of verifying that the child is fully involved with their project and that the parent has confidence the child can draw on their experience with the project and discuss the progress that has been made.

When youngsters raise and show animal projects, it does so much more than enhance animal husbandry skills. These projects teach so many essential life-skills that are difficult to come by in this day and age, skills and traits like setting goals, developing a work ethic and fulfilling commitments.

One of the biggest life lessons learned is that the responsibility of caring for a living creature that is totally dependant on you for its well being is a serious undertaking that requires work and dedication. These are just a few of the benefits gained by youth when they are fully involved in all aspects of their project work. These traits are lacking in so many of today's youth. They are the essential building blocks for developing productive members of society.

These experiences provide a firm foundation for accomplishing the responsibility of raising and providing for their family as an adult. In recent months, the economy has taken a serious downturn. Many businesses that have traditionally supported youth livestock show premium auction sales are not financially able to support these efforts like they have in the past.

It is times like these that the support of caring individuals becomes so important in taking up the slack that might occur when the local car and implement dealers, bankers or businesses are no longer in a position to purchase the bulk of the show projects.

And never forget the importance of providing words of encouragement for youth. Not placing first doesn't mean you are a failure, particularly if you put forth your best effort and learned from your experiences. Dedication and hard work will pay off in the future.

Always encourage our youth to congratulate their competitors on their accomplishments. Learn from the successes of others, as well as avoiding their mistakes. Help others when you have the chance and most will return the favor. Remain committed to improving your skills, be honest in your deeds and maintain your integrity.

These are very important life-lessons that youngsters involved in livestock show projects can gain when they are conducting their projects for the right reasons and under the proper guidance of adults who understand that the proper upbringing of the youngster is more important than the ribbons earned by the projects they take to the shows.

Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.