By Austin Black for Missouri Farmer Today
Growing up on a farm, Clayton Ferguson has been drawn to 4-H for as long as he can remember. He enjoyed being around cattle and was eager to attend the county fair. It wasn’t until 3rd grade, however, that his parents gave him the go-ahead for him to enroll.
“I think they were afraid I was with a big calf,” he joked.
His begging eventually worked, and Ferguson became a member of Altona’s 4-H club. A few years after joining, he moved to the Next Generation 4-H club which was a few miles from his home. A recent graduate of Adrian High School in Bates County, Missouri, this year marks his final round of 4-H competition.
Over the years, Ferguson has competed in a variety of project areas, including woodworking, welding, beef cattle and hogs.
“For me, 4-H was all about animals,” he said. “I like cattle and big steers.”
His carpentry and welding projects have seen him make bird feeders, tables and a kitchen wok, to name a few.
This year, along with his steer, Ferguson and his siblings entered seven pigs at the county fair. It was a lot of work, and Ferguson said he didn’t spend as much time preparing for the show as he would have liked. But he managed to place first in his class.
On the cattle side, Ferguson ranked above his brother in the heavyweight division, but struggled to beat the top steers in his class.
“We don’t do much with the hair of our cattle,” he says.
Instead of looking for stylish and attractive calves, he selects local steers from the family feedlot and focuses on winning the “Rate of Gain” contest.
“We push them as hard as we can and let them win as best they can,” he said. “We won this [contest] sometimes.”
When asked if he would rather show pigs or steers, Ferguson said it was a tie.
“On the money side, I like pigs much better,” he said. “But I really like steers.”
He loves having high-quality animals to compete with and said 4-H competition in Missouri is outstanding.
“In Missouri, we have some really good kids and cattle, and you hear the judges say that all day in the ring,” he said.
The presence of quality animals also helped Ferguson develop a good eye for grading livestock. For the past five or six years he has been on the county cattle judging team.
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“I love the cattle judging side of 4-H the most,” he said.
Although he had a good understanding of livestock selection before, being part of the team helped him improve his reasoning and judgment skills, as well as his confidence and leadership ability.
“My confidence has grown a lot,” he said. “You have to walk into the judge’s room and pretty much tell them you’re right.”
Coaches Melissa Lowe and Scott Sims taught Ferguson how to make good selection decisions and create a set of compelling reasons for each class. He also learned about sheep and goats through judgment.
“I was really bad at handling sheep and goats,” he said. “A few judging camps here and there helped.”
Ferguson also enlisted the help of other 4-H exhibitors to learn more about sheep and goat breeds and terminology.
The work definitely paid off. Last year, Ferguson competed on the Bates County team in the state 4-H meet. The team placed second overall in the state and he was in the top 15 individually. This advanced their team to the national contest in Louisville, Kentucky.
“[Louisville] was the experience of a lifetime,” he said.
The preparation was intense and Ferguson said it was like studying for a big test.
“The quality of the cattle is amazing,” he said.
Motivated by the success, Ferguson again qualified for the state competition this year and placed eighth individually.
“I thought my reasons score could have been better, and I wanted to be in the top five, but it’s a huge accomplishment to say you’re one of the best kids in Missouri,” he said. declared.
Once again his Bates County team placed second overall and earned a ticket to the Aksarben National Contest in Omaha, Nebraska. To make the trip even more memorable, Ferguson competes with his younger sister Callie.
“It’s quite competitive between us,” he said. “It makes things fun and then you do better.”
Throughout his 4-H career, Ferguson has learned the importance of being a team player, helping others and showing respect.
“You’re not going to get anything from anybody if you’re not respectful,” he said.
He takes pride in helping others and knows how valuable a helping hand or extra advice can be.
“I just like helping kids,” he said. “I never want to see kids struggle or lose. I’ve been on that boat and it’s not fun, so whenever I get the chance to help the kids out of the tough bus, I’m all for it.