Livestock Show & Rodeo looking to rope in more opportunities for students

Published 12:53 pm Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Southwest District Livestock Show & Rodeo is looking for more opportunities today to help the community leaders of tomorrow.

One of its goals is to secure funding commitments to create 10 $5,000 annual scholarships for the next five years that will be given to young people who aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields and the agriculture sector.

The scholarship would be restricted to students who have shown animals at the livestock show for at least three years and are graduating seniors who have maintained at least a 2.5 grade-point average.

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“We’re trying to build a scholarship program so that kids who faithfully take care of these animals have more opportunities to get to schools and other avenues,” said Jimmy Meaux, a county extension agent at LSU AgCenter.

These are not scholarships so that people will be steered necessarily toward agriculture careers, but it’s for students who show a tremendous work ethic and accomplishment because they show and raise animals, Meaux said.

“About 5 percent of 4-H and Future Farmers of America students go into the agriculture field when they’re done with the program, but most go into other fields — whether it be lawyer, doctor or working at the plants in the petrochemical industry. Our scholarship program aims to alleviate the financial burden on these deserving students.”

For the past 20 years, the rodeo has annually funded six $1,500 scholarships. Past recipients of those scholarships now work at area industries, in health care, on farms and on Capitol Hill.

But $1,500 is no longer enough for the many talented and ambitious individuals with a passion for agriculture who face economic barriers that hinder their ability to access higher education, Meaux said.

“When we first started the program, $1,500 was half of the cost of tuition. Now $1,500 isn’t half any more. The cost has gone up and so we’re trying to find ways to increase the amount to make it meaningful.”

Meaux said funds raised from the annual rodeo ticket sales — minus the event’s expenses — are what have traditionally funded those six scholarships. But as attendance slips with all of the other attractions the Lake Area now offers so, too, does the funding.

“That’s why we are reaching out to the community and business leaders to help support this program,” Meaux said.

Meaux said every dollar donated will go directly to the scholarship fund and certain naming rights, social media recognition and digital promotion will be offered at various levels of support. Recognition will also be given at the rodeo.

The plan is to present the scholarships during the 2025 livestock show.

“It’s an attainable goal and it’s something we know the community will get behind and try to help with,” Meaux said. “We had 30 applicants this year but could only give six scholarships. We want to try and reach a broader amount of students. That would be great for us to do.”

Meaux said investing in the education of aspiring agricultural leaders not only benefits the recipients but it also has a ripple effect on the industry as a whole when these scholars emerge as well-equipped professionals.

And already most of them have a leg up as then enter the workforce.

“They’ve already learned about responsibility, getting up at 5 or 6 o’clock every morning when they get their animals — and some of them have these animals for five or six months — caring for them, making sure they’ve got their food and water,” he said. “When we had our cold snaps, they had to break ice in the morning to make sure their calf could get their water or their hog could get their water. They get home after school, do their homework and then they are back in the field taking care of them.”

They’re also learning communication skills when they go to the feed store to make sure they’re getting the right ingredients and going to area businesses to market their animals.

“When we talk to our business people they tell us that when they go to hire
individuals the kids that have gone through our livestock project have a work ethic like nobody knows,” Meaux said. “They’re at work on time, they know how to talk to people, they know the life lessons that other kids don’t. They are well-rounded and they make great employees.”

They can also fix anything.

“When you’re on a farm and something breaks, they know how to fix it and tinker with things,” he said.

Meaux said what many also don’t realize is the STEM-focused skills these students are already gaining.

“The science they’re learning is caring for the animals, learning when to breed animals, researching the genetics, and then they’re using math to know how much to feed an animal so that it gains three pounds a day to make sure it makes it to the sale at a certain weight,” he said. “You also have to know how much feed to buy to last a certain amount of time before the sale.”

He said the students are using technology through apps that help them estimate the right time to breed and track when animals are in heat.

Exhibitors also are honing their engineering skills by providing proper shelter and facilities based on the size and scope of their project.

“You’re learning how to measure, you’re learning how to cut things at the right angle, you’re learning how to weld, basic things engineers do,” he said. “When they get to college, they’re going to have a head start.”

Meaux, who showed cattle as a boy and has served as an extension agent for 25 years, now manages the livestock show.

“It’s something to watch these kids grow,” he said. “To watch a 9-year-old who is really nervous getting in the ring for the first time and then to see them when they turn 18 and it’s their last show. Then they’re off to college and in a few year they come back to the show with their own kids and then those kids want to be involved in it. It’s such a family-oriented thing and it’s fun to watch the growth.”

These scholarships will provide encouragement and honors for young people for their work ethic, self-discipline and life skills, Meaux said.

“We want to do better for them,” he said.

For more information on how to donate to the program, visit