Importance of agriculture-focused youth programs in today's world

Jul 3, 2020

Youth programs like 4-H and FFA play an important role in teaching the skills needed to navigate through today’s modern world. Sam Strahan discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on youth activities and explains some positive solutions that CRYSTALYX has to offer.


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Tom:    This is Tom Martin talking today with Sam Strahan, Nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, about the importance of agriculture-focused youth programs. And Sam, just how important are youth programs like 4-H and FFA in today's world?

Sam:     Tom, I would say these may be more important now than they've ever been, and so few people attached directly to production agriculture today have learning programs to teach not only production skills but the many different skills that can be learned, through personal interactions, exposure to technology and agriculture, (and) knowing the proper way to just work tdrequired to feed a growing world population. Within our company of Alltech — and specifically, my division of Ridley — there are a lot of volunteer hours spent working with youth groups as volunteer leaders, doing demonstrations on showing, feeding and fitting show animals and proper animal husbandry. Many of us grew up on farms, and we just want to help pass along the high standards needed in today's modern agriculture. We're also interested in showing the next generation the many opportunities available in this high-tech world and encourage them to be part of it, whether they’ve got a farm background or not.

Tom:     Sam, are there any programs available through your company for youth in agriculture?

Sam:     Yes, there are. We have a long-term program through our CRYSTALYX dealer network called Earn to Learn™. This program allows youth groups such as 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, horse and rodeo clubs to earn money for their group in a simple but educational format. The basics of the program are pretty simple, so I'll outline them here. Youth groups can set a fundraising goal for an educational opportunity of their choosing and then work with a local CRYSTALYX dealer to plan a strategy for connecting with local livestock producers. They’ll then set up a fundraising timeline of 4 weeks. And during this time, discount cards are sold to producers and the money is collected. Livestock producers pay $20 to receive a $40-per-ton discount on product — so, a good benefit for them. All money collected from the sales of the cards stays with the youth group.

This is a relatively easy program to administer. It’s unlike many other fundraisers. Once the coupon is sold and money collected, there's no follow-up required with the producer, like having to deliver fruit or candy or flowers. The dealers are reimbursed the full $40-per-ton discount amount. So, their investment is really in the time they spend with the youth group. So, we consider this a win for the youth group because they earn money for a good cause. It's a win for the producer because they get a $20-per-ton discount on CRYSTALYX products while supporting the youth, and (it’s) a win for the dealer selling the product because they get to work with both the youth and the producer.

In further support of this program, CRYSTALYX account managers often get asked to get involved in helping with education of the youth group, discussing such things as nutrition of show animals, proper care for the animals and so on. Now, on a larger scale, our parent company, Alltech, is involved in a number of ways, both in the U.S. and internationally, in cases where they invest in advanced degree programs for college students, they offer internships and they also get involved in investing seed money in competitions for entrepreneurs who have demonstrated great ideas for furthering agricultural technology.

Tom:     With COVID changing up so much of what we used to consider the norm, what impacts do you expect COVID to have on youth show programs this summer?

Sam:     Well, without question, the disruption of our world during 2020 will have a major impact on many young people who had hoped to show animals at local fairs this summer. Many shows will be canceled. But in the current climate of easing back into more normal routines, there will still be a lot of activities going on, but under new rules of engagement, certainly.

For those who have lost the opportunity to show their animals, we really empathize with the loss that they have (experienced), of fun and competing against their peers, their returns on investment for their time and money. But as adults, we can still be instrumental in helping 4-H-ers and FFA participants stay involved. I think this is an example of how the Earn to Learn™ can be used strategically, to have a program of involvement that can be safely implemented. We've all learned how to use Zoom or MS Teams to hold meetings and conduct business in a different way than before. And the youth can certainly find even more creative ways to communicate. I recently saw this statement attributed to Willie Nelson, which I think is very appropriate: “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results.” I think we need to work really hard right now to be part of the positive thought process as we talk to our young people and among ourselves. We need to offer positive solutions.

Tom:     So, tell me about more positive solutions that CRYSTALYX has to offer. Are there specific products that are better suited for show animals or smaller-sized herds?

Sam:     Yes, there are. Most people are familiar with our wide range of CRYSTALYX products, most of them available with the larger 200- or 250-pound tubs. If we just focus on the show animals segment of working with 4-H-ers and FFA participants, we're typically talking, then, about a small number of animals, which always receive excellent care — but they're exposed to a certain number of challenges to stay healthy, whether it's due to heat, being moved from familiar surroundings to an unfamiliar location that's most likely noisy, they're going to be exposed to different-tasting water. Plus, animals end up being handled a lot more.

For cattle under these conditions, I recommend providing a 60-pound CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® Battalion® stress tub for 1 animal or just a small string of animals. The Battalion nutrition package is focused on supporting better health under stress conditions in several different ways. Because it's in our Blueprint line, this means that the trace minerals copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt are 100% organic or in a chelated form. The organic form closely mimics what cattle would find naturally in their forages, so it's better absorbed than inorganic trace minerals, which allows us to lower the levels in the supplement and thereby reduce excretion into the environment. Secondly, our research has proven that organic minerals will improve growth, and we tend to see better fluff and hair health (on animals fed Blueprint).

One of the most essential additives in Battalion is Bio-Mos® 2, which is a yeast cell extract, and it's been shown to improve growth performance by stabilizing conditions in the gut, which often get out of whack when these cattle are fed a lot of grain. Another additive, chromium, helps improve the energy status of cattle so they derive more calories from the feeds consumed.

Something we don't stress enough with lick tubs is the importance of that licking action, which also helps to buffer the rumen. So, this reduces digestive upsets when cattle are on these high-grain diets. And by being available 24/7, any animal that might feel a little bit off can have access to the lick tub, and (that) often helps them to feel better. In fact, I had a personal experience with the father of a 4-H-er last year who told me they had a steer go off feed, and when he introduced the stress tub to that steer, they had a huge turnaround there and quickly got the steer back to eating and gaining.

We also have another stress tub in a 60-pound size called Brigade®, which has done a great job for many years in reducing problems with stressed cattle. The primary difference between the Brigade and Battalion is that Brigade contain the BIO-MOS 2, or chromium, and the trace minerals in it contain a combination of organic and inorganic trace (minerals).

Tom:     Well, besides cattle products, what else does CRYSTALYX have for kids with show animals?

Sam:     Over the past few years, there's been a growing popularity with showing smaller animals like sheep and goats, especially with the younger children, for obvious reasons. It's a lot easier to feed, train and handle a 100-pound lamb than it is a 1,300-pound steer, you can imagine. I think many 4-H-ers also see that they have an opportunity here, maybe, to show more than one of these smaller animals rather than one large one.

With CRYSTALYX, we can offer three high-quality supplements in a 60-pound tub again. So, these are sized for smaller animals or groups. The first two, CRYSTALYX® Sheep-lyx™ and Goat-lyx®, are quite similar in nutrient content and nutritional additives, but each is, of course, formulated for their particular species. Another option for sheep is the newest addition, called CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® Sheep Mineral block, which, as the name implies, is a source of minerals without protein added.

RELATED BLOG: Stable-lyx equine supplements: Fly control and smaller container options

We sometimes are asked why another feed option needs to be included when the show animals are already receiving a fully balanced grain. Now, supplements have always been part of the toolkit with show animals and, by definition, are meant to fill in the gaps of what might be missing from the forage and grain part of the diet. CRYSTALYX blocks provide two critical things I mentioned with the cattle stress block outside of the nutrient package. Number 1: They're available 24/7. So, even if the feeding schedule gets messed up or the lambs and kids prefer to eat maybe at a cooler time of day after the normal feeding, there’s still a source of nutrition in front of the animals, which allows some of the more timid ones to still have access. The licking action, which is very instinctive and natural in the lambs and kids, is highly beneficial for increasing saliva production and bicarb to help buffer the rumen and minimize the digestive upsets, which can put them off feed and, if that occurred, could seriously damage the project.

Now, beyond this, each of the three products include similar additives as the cattle stress block, including BIO-MOS 2, which, again, is an all-natural additive that helps maintain digestive health and can significantly reduce pathogens if the animal happens to be hit with a bacterial challenge. All contain organic or chelated trace minerals, which boosts the immune system to help overcome many disease challenges. And it allows for better and more consistent growth, hair and wool quality and so on for the show animals. The Blueprint Sheep Mineral tub has the trace minerals in a 100% organic form and is recommended to feed when forages are already adequate in protein, such as with spring and early summer pastures. So, each of these will work as stress supplements that can reduce issues related to nutrition and health and, ultimately, improve growth and overall production.

I would also like to include what we have available for members of horse clubs. Over the years, CRYSTALYX has had tremendous success with the Stable-lyx® block, which, for summertime use, includes ClariFly® for fly control in pastures and stables. This has been available in 60- and 125-pound tubs as smaller units, but introduced recently, we now have a 33-pound flat-back bucket with a handle on it for easy carrying or hanging in a stall or on a fence. Stable-lyx is another highly fortified supplement with organic trace minerals included for improved absorption. It also has biotin, zinc and other minerals and vitamins for better hoof and hair quality and electrolytes to help horses recover after a strenuous workout or competition. The salt in the formula will help regulate consumption while encouraging more water intake. In addition, yeast is included in the formula to help improve fiber digestion (and) to minimize digestive upsets. Since horses need to eat many small meals daily due to their small stomach size, the hardness of the Stable-lyx block, along with the salt, will limit how much can be consumed. In total, Stable-lyx can make your life easier, giving you peace of mind that your horse has a complete supplement to meet the nutritional requirements in a cost-effective and simple manner.

Recently, Tim Clark wrote a blog on the new Stable-lyx bucket. So, if you want some more information, feel free to visit and read that.

Tom:     Sam, it sounds like CRYSTALYX has a large selection of products that are suited for kids feeding and working with their show animals, as well as a nice fundraising program with Earn to Learn. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Sam:     Yeah. I'd just like to reiterate that CRYSTALYX personnel have, for many years, been involved in supporting youth activities through our dealer network and very much want to continue to do that in the future. We especially would like to encourage our dealers, adult club leaders or others involved in these youth activities to help find a way, during the current COVID situation, to figure out safe ways to continue the educational learning experiences that might be missing. With the loss of sports and other activities, I think Earn to Learn can be used as a challenge between groups to instill that competitive spirit while still using it for fundraising and as a learning tool. Any of us working for CRYSTALYX would love to help participate in any of those fun activities that our dealers or leaders would like to set up. So, please, get us to help if we can.

Tom:     Sam Strahan, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thank you, Sam.

Sam:     Thank you, Tom. I appreciate the opportunity.