Home » News » How “Market Animal Projects” Harm Both Animals and Children

How “Market Animal Projects” Harm Both Animals and Children

Like This? Share This!

It is a warm summer day at the fairgrounds. The scents of funnel cake and kettle corn combined with the unmistakable “barnyard” smell combine to create an oddly nostalgic atmosphere. Joyful screams and cheers can be heard from ferris wheels and roller coasters in the distance.


A little girl, blonde and covered with freckles, is cheered on by enthusiastic friends and family members as she steps into the show ring with her Holstein calf. The two make an adorable pair. At just a few months old, the black and white spotted animal is nearly as tall as she is; yet, she has full control over the animal. The calf knows and trusts her. Although the stress of the loud and busy auction causes him to foam at the mouth, he listens well, just as she has trained him to do. She shares his anxiety in the ring, and she smiles nervously as she asks the calf to stand still and lift his head high for the judges.


The bidding begins, and the audience roars with applause when the calf sells for a high price. Her hard work has paid off.


But as she exits the ring, her giant grin fades fast. Tears begin to roll as she cradles the head of the calf she has come to love. The audience’s attention is now on the next child and calf who have since entered the ring, but the little girl’s focus is entirely on her animal. Older kids on the sidelines attempt to comfort her, but the tears keep coming.


The realization has set in that an irreversible decision has been made: one that will cost her friend his life.


This was a real scene I witnessed at an FFA/4H auction at a popular Southern California summer fair. Sadly, scenes like this are far from uncommon at fairgrounds across the country.


The Future Farmers of America and 4H programs teach children about careers in animal agriculture. During these projects, children pick a species they would like to raise. Animals include rabbits, chickens, turkeys, pigs, calves, cows, lambs and goats.


They raise the animal onsite at their school, and put a great deal of time into working with the animal to prepare them for showing. Pigs are trained to be guided with a crop whip or cane, and sheep, goats and cows are trained to walk on a halter and lead rope. These animals often have names and are sometimes viewed as companions as well as “livestock”.


The housing and care provided to these animals tends to be subpar compared to sanctuary standards. Limited space at schools often leads to animals living in barren concrete stalls. Like animals on farms, they are typically denied individualized veterinary care.


The emphasis in these programs is on raising animals efficiently for slaughter, not in caring for them as individuals. Still, kids spend countless hours working with their project animals, and often form strong bonds. 


Despite all of this, the end goal of every “market animal project” is for the animal to be shown, auctioned off, and slaughtered.


Sadly, for kids raised in agricultural families, this may come as second nature. But for kids inexperienced in farm life, the end result can be devastating and downright traumatic.


For many years, I visited my local fair to offer these children another option for their animals. Every year, I came across kids in the same situation. Living in urban areas forced them between a rock and a hard place at the end of their projects. Even if they had changed their mind, they did not have the space to bring their animal home and save their life. Children in this situation often feel trapped and helpless. They are horrified by the idea of their animal friend being killed, but unable to secure an alternative.


In my experience, children who could not bear the thought of their animals going to slaughter were pressured by their instructors and ridiculed by their peers. These children were deemed “overly emotional” and faced humiliation for caring too deeply.


Peer pressure combined with a lack of options causes students to make decisions they may later regret.


One teenage boy I will never forget was pointed out by a group of his peers after I asked them if anyone would be interested in sending their animals to sanctuary. “That guy over there is probably the only one who’d be interested in that,” one sixteen or seventeen year old boy told me as he held back laughter. He and his friends smirked and turned their eyes to the boy, of a similar age range, who was the only student in the show barn sitting with his animal. It was evident that he was somewhat of an outcast among his “friends” here, guilty of nothing more than showing too much empathy. Teenage cliques can be brutal, especially on boys expected to be stoic and lacking in emotion. 


When I asked him about his cow and told him I could offer her sanctuary, he began to choke up. His instructor had told him it wouldn’t be possible to find his cow a home where she would be safe from slaughter. With the fair ending in a matter of days, he had already found a private buyer.


Papers had been signed, and there was no going back. He wasn’t aware that sanctuaries even existed for farmed animals, and was near tears upon learning this. He had spent every day of the fair laying with his cow, brushing her, cherishing her in her final days.


This was his first and last time participating in the FFA. 


Sadly, this is the culture that students who become attached to their “project” animals are faced with. Pressured by both their peers and adults and unaware of the resources that exist to help them and their animals, these compassionate children are forced into making a decision that may cause lasting trauma.


Some quit and are left with painful memories. Others are desensitized by the experience and return the following year, this time being careful not to “get attached”. 


More worrying yet is the “out of sight, out of mind” culture when it comes to the actual slaughter of the project animals. Students are rarely required to be present for the killing itself. Most often, animals are trucked out of the fairgrounds en masse to meet their fate while the students return home. A young girl once confessed to me that her instructor advised her to walk away when the slaughter company loaded her pig so that she would not have to witness the harsh treatment of the animal she had grown to love. The students are allowed to walk away from the animals’ suffering when the animals have no escape.


In a matter of moments these animals enter a world of confusion and fear, separated from the humans they had learned to trust. 


Rather than teaching youth to be merciful and kind to vulnerable and innocent animals, these programs normalize betrayal. 


Weeks or months of bonding is exchanged for dollars and cents, and kids are taught to “toughen up” rather than listening to their gut instincts. Those who attempt to take a stand for their animals have their feelings mocked and are treated as outliers. 


Animal Place has taken in numerous FFA and 4H rescues over the years. All that we asked for was the promise that students will never again raise a project animal.


It is our belief that we should encourage values such as empathy and mercy in children. Rather than “toughening up” children for a harsh world, we should raise children to be kind enough to create a gentler world.


As summer begins, FFA/4H projects are in full swing. We want to remind children and parents alike that there is no such thing as being “too kind”. In fact, having the courage to take a stand for what you believe in is something to be admired, not something to be mocked and ridiculed. Showing too much kindness is rarely something that people regret. The same cannot be said of the decision to condemn an animal to slaughter. 


Written by Chelsea Pinkham



20 Responses so far.

  1. Diana Lewis says:

    I often worried about the dichotomy presented to children at 4H fairs. Thank you for speaking up!

  2. OMG…..this happened to me as a child when my family thought that would be a good thing for me to participate in . When I realized what would happen to the animals I freaked and protested so much that I was ” removed” from the program and the people in charge tried to make me feel like I was in the wrong.
    Made me become a vegetarian for years.
    These programs are just for brain washing another generation of kids so the adults can continue to make money off animal slaughter. BREAK THE CYCLE !!!!!!! Way over 1/2 the kids in my class did NOT want their animals butchered ! It’s all for profit if meat companies !!!!!!!

    • It sounds like you were ahead of your time! Glad you stood up for what you believed in- many kids want to, but just don’t know what resources exist to help them.

  3. I’ve seen these things first hand in my youth 70 years ago, and have always wished for it to stop. I’m grateful that someone has finally stepped up and acknowledged this problem & is providing a solution. These animals have feelings and love in them. They are much more intelligent than the humans who exploit them. Thank you so much for helping put a stop to the abuse and trauma.

  4. My cousin in San Jose teaches animal ag in high school. I would love to reach out to him to offer an option to his students.

  5. lorenza benavides says:

    poor children and poor animals how tthey suffer with the separation, is inhumane,cruel, and worst when they know that the animal is going to be killed.

    • We agree- market animal projects are inhumane towards both children and animals. No child should ever have to suffer the emotional trauma of having an animal friend taken from them, and no animal should ever have to suffer the confusion and fear that these animals go through after auction.

  6. Kate Considine says:

    Children are naturally proud to have been able to raise an animal. Like most humans who have a “house pet”, these children come to see the animal they raises as at least a part of the family! It certainly IS a betrayal to be forced to send a loved one to be slaughtered! It can be a heart wrenching thing for the child to have to do. Children, like adults become emotionally attached to thes animals. Please have compassion for both the children, and the animals they raise. Allowing the child to keep the animal can be one of the best, and most rewarding parts of learning to raise an animal..

    Tbank you for your consideration.

  7. Sharon Hendrickson-Pfeil says:

    As a young girl, I became attached to cows raised on my grandparents’ small ranch in Southern Arizona. I remember especially two cows I named Black Beauty and Snow White. One but not the other was temporarily rescued by my kind cowboy uncle when I saw with alarm that she was being loaded onto a truck to be sent to a feed lot. I was a lot like those compassionate FFA kids.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, gradually moving closer to becoming vegan. Thank you so much for validating those young people and making it possible for them good choices that they will always remember.

    • Connecting with individual animals is a starting point for so many people in their journey towards vegetarianism and veganism. The same is true for so many of these kids who fall in love with their animals who they name and raise from a young age. Thank you for sharing your memory of two animals who inspired compassion in you- we hope more people, both children and adults, feel the same!

  8. Frank Fiore says:

    Lets start showing more compassion for all of Gods’ creations.

  9. Barbara Bishop says:

    My throat feels all choked up. Thank you for your heart felt article. It is harmful to the children and to the animals to be involved in FHA. Being too kind and caring is not possible! It is not good to have no feeling and to ridicule others who are kind. Thank you so much for helping the children to save their animal friends that they have cared for and love.

  10. Andree Clearwater says:

    I am so happy to learn that these young people now have an option to having their beloved animals slaughtered , after weeks and months of bonding and caring.Thank you, Animal Place!

  11. “Project” animals should NEVER be a nesspart of a 4-H or FFA! It is extremely cruel! It’s a contest to “show” an innocent animal and then only to have it sold and sent to slaughter. It sends a message that animal cruelty is acceptable. The entire “showing” of animals at fairs, thorough 4-H etc needs to be look at and reevaluated.

  12. Sally Eadie says:

    What a horrible practice that breaks a child’s heart. At the same time it teaches them that our best friends are disposable. It’s shameful.

  13. Robin Zeplin says:

    Thank for the article and the program. All these years I have thought how incongruous it is to raise an animal with care only to turn it over to a cruel final fate.

    It’s about time!!!!

  14. Caleope Bernhardt says:

    Thank you so much for your compassion. This is what we need to teach the children….not to ‘toughen up’ but to connect and realize the value of each of these animals.

  15. Susan Bonta says:

    It is the ultimate cruelty to both children & their little furry or feathered friends. Many times I have heard of children, who are autistic or suffering from other similar conditions, forming a bond with the animals…even to the point of chattering secretly to their animal friend – giggling & performing chores with the animal by their side…but clamming up again when humans are present. Animals love us unconditionally _ and can even sense when we are sad, for instance. In some ways, I would venture to say, animals have evolved compassion & being grateful, with every hug, kiss, wagging tail, and excited shout of glee to be with their human child friend. Pigs are supposed to have the intelligence of a 3 year old human child. Why are we eating them again? Why are we eating anything that is capable of giving us love & comfort – even more than some humans? And the animals are capable of forming those same types of bonds with each other; and sometimes even with animals of other species! Why are we eating living beings with an intelligence? We have a lot to learn from animals…human beings are racist to other human beings who are of a different race..where is the intelligence in THAT?.. No human being is superior over another…except for level of appreciation of ALL LIFE.

    • We so agree with everything you’ve said, Susan. Children who have trouble forming bonds with other children often find deep connections with animals, who are non-judgemental and straightforward in their behavior. Subjecting children to sentencing one of their beloved animal friends to death is so very harsh, and we will be happy to see the day that this practice comes to an end.