• By Ryan Farley, Extension Agent

4-H/Youth Development

Zach Pantaliono and Andrew Gay cure their hams in January as part of the 4-H country ham project at the Woodford County Extension office. (Photo submitted)

It’s that time of year again for one of the great Kentucky 4-H traditions - the country ham project.

The country ham curing contest is just one of many educational and character building programs 4-H offers that doesn’t require youth or their families to own considerable amounts of acreage, livestock or have a background in agriculture. This project is a part of the 4-H Animal Science curriculum and youth wanting to complete this project must become a member of the Woodford County 4-H Livestock Club.

Counties east of I-65 will put their hams in cure in January at a county office and most work in county groups, so a county like Woodford for example, will have three or four counties working with them and will store their hams at the Woodford County ham house.

Counties west of I-65 will work with professional ham curers, including Scotts Hams, Broadbents B&B Foods, Harper’s Country Hams, Miller’s Country Hams, Meachum’s Hams or Clifty Farms, to put their hams in cure in January, February or early March. Hams east of I-65 are not smoked, while hams west of I-65 are smoked.

At the fair, hams are judged by producers and meat buyers. The hams are divided into two different categories, smoked and non-smoked, and by the age of the youth. Hams are judged on aroma, lean to fat ratio and shape, but this is only 40 percent of the youth’s entire score. Youth must also present a five to seven-minute speech about a topic related to the ham curing process, which counts for 60 percent of the score.

The benefits of the program are many. Youth develop persistence and responsibility during the eight months they cure the hams. They learn to appreciate the value that is added to raw commodities.

While the project lasts eight months, most of the time is devoted to letting the ham age. Youth are responsible for washing, trimming and applying curing mix to the ham. Most use pre-made cure mix from a local country ham producer or a county 4-H agent for youth development.

A second washing and curing application is done in either March or April, and final preparations for the state fair are done in August.

In addition to curing the hams, youth must complete six hours of training in the livestock certification program before the state fair to be eligible to submit a ham to the contest. During this training, 4-Hers learn the history of country ham production, the country ham industry and criteria judges look for in a prize-winning ham.

This wonderful hands-on project offers youth a chance to learn a skill and do their own work. Members do not need any special knowledge because they are taught everything along the way.

This is an opportunity to show youth that persistence and care pays many dividends. Some of those dividends are received through the annual 4-H/FFA Youth Livestock Sale.

To enroll in the 4-H Country Ham Project, contact Woodford County Cooperative Extension Service at (859) 873-4601. Ham contracts should be available soon and all youth must be 4-H age to participate. Adults are also invited to participate by completing a contract by this deadline as well.

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