99th Annual Oklahoma Youth Expo Ready for Another Record-Breaking YearThu, 06 Mar 2014 16:23:59 CST
The Oklahoma Youth Expo is right around the corner with its 99th edition at the State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City beginning March 12. The show's executive director, Tyler Norvell, tells Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays interest is at an all-time high. (You can listen to their full conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story. Norvell will also appear on this weekend's "In the Field" segment on News 9 about 6:40 Saturday morning.)
"I can't believe it, but we broke our entry record again-14,125 animals entered, 7,000 kids, once again at least one student from every Oklahoma county coming to participate. Some counties have several hundred kids coming to participate."
Some adjustments have been made to this year's schedule due to construction and renovation in the livestock barns at the fairgrounds, but Norvell says he hopes to keep the schedule for the foreseeable future.
"This year the gilts come in first and we show the breeding females there. Then the heifers and we show them on the front end. And then, of course, the goats and sheep and we are able to pen them accordingly and we can have those shows together later in the week with the market animals. The gilts and heifers come in first and then we show the market animals."
In an around those shows, OYE has statewide showmanship competitions.
"We're one of the few statewide shows that have a statewide qualifying showmanship contest. We will name the best showman in the state of Oklahoma. We'll do it for each particular species and then have a round-robin showmanship where we pick the best overall. And then we have the fitting contests and herdsmanship contests."
And if that weren't enough, Norvell says there are sales held during the Expo as well.
"There are two breeding sales. We have a breeding doe sale where the top 20 does are sold to producers who come in and buy. And then we also have a breeding gilt sale where we sell about 100 gilts that go all over the country. Last year that gilt sale grossed the kids almost $300,000 on 100 lots. That's almost unheard of on a hog sale. There's no such thing as a breeding gilt sale anymore and we have the best one in the country right here in Oklahoma."
This year is the 99th edition of the show and next year will mark 100. Norvell says they are gathering photographs and fun facts about the show over the years that will be published in a book next year. He says they are particularly looking for photographs from the shows earliest years.
Norvell says the show has evolved over the years from being focused primarily on the animals themselves to its current focus on the students first along with their animals.
"Whenever it started, it was called the Fat Stock Show and all the farmers and ranchers from across the state came to the show not only to support the kids, but, more importantly, to figure out what the ideal animal was. It really just started as a market steer show-what's ideal in the beef industry. Then they added hogs and sheep and added goats in the 2000s so that's a very recent add. And then it's evolved and we've added breeding animals in all of the species and that lets a lot of kids be involved in production agriculture and raise livestock.
"Now you see more and more non-traditional families and students being involved-somebody that lives in Oklahoma City or Tulsa or Lawton and keeps their animals at the school farm and are doing it because of the life skills it teaches these young people-responsibility, character, fiscal responsibility, how to manage money. And that's why our sponsors continually say 'We want to hire the kids who go through OYE, FFA and 4-H, because they're the kids who have a work ethic. They have integrity, honesty. We want them to know who we are so we can hire them.'
"I think that's why it's become about the kids. It's the quality of the kids who are involved in the program."
Norvell says that interest and focus on the kids is reflected in the sponsorship dollars that underwrite OYE and in the scholarships awarded to the students.
"Over the last 12 years we've handed out over $2 million in scholarships. And what's great about our scholarship program is that money can only be used at Oklahoma universities and colleges so those kids that use that money are going to school here and, more than likely, will stay in this state and be an investment for this state in the future."
This year, Norvell says, they hope to hand out over $1.5 million during the show's ten-day run.
As far as the future is concerned, Norvell says the show will continue to grow if it simply continues to do what it does best and that is to showcase the students who make the commitment and work so hard to get there.
"Families are tight for money and we keep thinking that, well, maybe they'll cut the budget on the show animals. But they don't. I had a dad tell me a couple of years ago 'It costs a lot of money to show goats every year and it could double and I don't care because it keeps my kids out from in front of the TV, it keeps them active and it's teaching them skills they need.' So, I think that's how our program is going to continue to grow."
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