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4-H livestock showing grew teen's leadership
INDIANOLA, Miss. -- Learning how to show pigs in 4-H livestock competitions made a leader out of Sarah Thomas Smith.
Smith, 17, is a junior at Indianola Academy in Sunflower County, Mississippi. She has been an active member of the Sunflower County Livestock 4-H club since 2010.
"4-H has taught me quickly how to be a leader," Smith said. "When I started livestock showing, I didn't realize there are so many eyes that watch you. I want to do the best I can for the little ones who are watching me now. They're the next generation who will be in the show ring after me.
"Most little kids think they can't talk to adults, but they're comfortable talking to an older kid. Knowing they're watching gives me something to live up to, as I can show them the right way to approach situations, win or lose," she said.
Smith began showing Chester pigs in 4-H competition when she was 10. 4-H is the Mississippi State University Extension Service education and leadership program for ages 5 to 18.
"I didn't know anything when I started showing pigs. I did it for fun because a lot of my friends did it," she said. "I would watch the older kids and see the way they handled the animal and listen to what they said. Then, when I was around 14, I told my dad I really want to do well in showing. I got better each year as I gained experience."
Showing livestock begins at county-level competitions. Winners can then move to the district level. Blue-ribbon winners at district can enter the annual Dixie National Junior Round-Up Livestock Show. Champion and reserve champion animals in the Dixie National Junior Round-Up Market Shows qualify for the Dixie National Sale of Junior Champions, where they are auctioned at a premium to philanthropic bidders.
Smith has competed and won at all of these levels, and she has put her winnings away to help fund her college education. This year, she was a Swine Premier Exhibitor at Dixie National, and that scholarship also went into her college fund.
But the earnings are only part of what she has gained.
"I used to be shy, but now I have a lot of friends and have learned responsibility along the way," Smith said. "I've had many opportunities to grow and compete at even the national level."
In addition to her livestock showmanship, Smith is heavily involved in her family's show-hog breeding business. Her parents, Bryan and Alicia Smith, own BAMS Farms in Indianola.
"We breed about 12 sows a year, and we have more than 25 show pigs on feed right now. It's a big task to feed them every morning and night, and get them washed and walked," Smith said. "It's a lot of responsibility, but I enjoy it."
On occasion, Alex Deason, Smith's Extension livestock agent, comes to the farm to consult on the pigs and lend a hand on the farm.
"Sarah Thomas works hard in everything she does, and she does not like to be unprepared for anything," Deason said. "When she sets a goal or commits to something, she is in 100 percent and is going to do everything in her power to be prepared and not let surprises or uncertainties stop her from her goal or commitment."
Smith's love for animals is directing her to a career in veterinary medicine, and she said she intends to attend MSU to pursue that degree after high school.