• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Woodford 4-H skillathon team advances to nationals

A SENIOR 4-H SKILLATHON TEAM representing Woodford County won a state championship to advance to nationals in November. From left, front, are Eliza Lavin and Chloe Wagener; back, Cole Vanzant and Matt Vanzant, with their state title trophy. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

A 4-H livestock skillathon team from Woodford County will represent Kentucky during the national championship at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville on Nov. 13. "It's a testament to how hard they've worked and how hard that they've studied, and the time and the effort they've put in (to accomplish this)," said Ryan Farley, Woodford County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development. Competing against 28 other teams, the Woodford County 4-H Livestock Skillathon Team - Eliza Lavin, Cole Vanzant, Matt Vanzant and Chloe Wagener - won a state title in February and advanced to nationals. In addition to having an experienced coach, Woodford County's 4-H skillathon team has been supported by a farming community with a willingness to offer help so these teens could develop the necessary skills and knowledge to win a state title and earn a trip to nationals, Farley said. "They really have to have a breadth of knowledge about the (livestock) industry, and they have to stand up and explain to a judge why they've made the decision they have," said Coach Theresa Vanzant. To prepare for the upcoming one-day national championship, Vanzant's team of four will continue learning skills associated with livestock production. For example, the teens have learned how to identify different types of feeds and how each is used in the beef, sheep, swine and goat industries. The teens have also learned about different meat cuts in the beef industry - from farm to table. "So they have to know the whole industry," Vanzant said. Besides knowing how meats are graded, they must also understand how various cuts are marketed in a restaurant setting. "So they really have to run the gamut," said Vanzant. Her team also learned how vaccinations and medicines are used to maintain health, as well as how to handle livestock animals, she added. "It's an animal science mini-degree for high schoolers," said Vanzant. She said her youngest sons, Matt and Cole, have both been active in 4-H since age nine. They and their teammates are also in the Woodford County 4-H Livestock Club. "This is an amazing group of kids in terms of their diversity and ability," said Vanzant, a home-school parent with a bachelor's and master's degree in animal science. "It's a neat team, it really is," she added. "Because they each bring something different..." Eliza and Chloe said they appreciate the communication skills they've developed to prepare and compete in a 4-H skillathon. They know those skills will help - regardless of their future career paths. "I am interested in animal sciences so the topic (of livestock) does go with that," said Eliza, who will attend Berea College this fall. Chloe, an 11th grader at Woodford County High School, has been judging livestock since seventh grade. She also has an interest in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, which relates to what she and her teammates have learned in 4-H livestock skillathon competitions. "There are a lot of good skills that we will learn ... that we can definitely use later on," said Cole, 15. His older brother, Matt, who works at the University of Kentucky beef research facility, said he enjoys working with cattle, which he described as his strong suit in the 4-H livestock skillathon. He also enjoys learning about other aspects of livestock away from the farm. "What happens to those animals after they leave (the farm)? How do they get to the table? That's something that's always interested me," said Matt, 17. "I would like to bring that (knowledge) to other people. "There are a lot of people that don't understand how food gets to their plate. That's important for people to know." Cole and Matt's older brother, Eric, was a member of the Woodford County 4-H skillathon team that advanced to nationals in 2013. Their mom coached that team too. "We've had a lot of fun doing this together," said Vanzant of her youngest sons. "...And it's time I can spend with my boys doing something that's going to help them learn skills, build confidence in them."

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