Think you have to live on or near a farm to work with animals in 4-H? Think again!

Lots of people think 4-H is all about living on a farm and raising a cow or a pig, taking it to fair, winning a blue ribbon and maybe selling the animal to earn money for college. For some youth, that's true, although there's a lot more to it than that.

But thousands of kids in 4-H work with animals and have never set foot on a farm. They're working with dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, birds, fish, snakes, turtles you name it. Not only do you get to be with animals that make great companions, you'll understand them so much better when you learn about what to feed them, how to train them and how to enhance their environment. All of those things is why it's called animal science.

Caring for an animal is a big deal, so you'll definitely learn to be responsible. If you could use a boost in confidence and want to get better at communicating, working with an animal could be right up your alley. And there's nothing like working with an animal to help you feel connected to another living being.

It can be fantastic, but it can also be hard. Seeing an animal being born is like ... wow! Losing an animal friend can hurt, though. It's all part of life, and working with animals let's you learn to cope with all kinds of experiences.

Backyard flocks

A small, "backyard" flock of chickens can provide your family with a source of high-quality food, possibly some added income and can serve as an excellent learning experience for children. Remember, a flock of chickens can restrict family activities because it must be fed, watered and cared for daily.

Most farms and many suburban residences have facilities suitable for a flock of chickens. Before you start raising chickens, particularly in suburban areas, investigate local ordinances because some areas have restrictions on keeping poultry. Noise, dust, feathers, odors or flies from your flock may quickly cool neighborhood friendships. Good management and a visit with your neighbors to explain your project will go a long way toward alleviating problems. Promising to share fresh eggs and fryers might also help.

Once you have decided you want to raise poultry, you need to decide which species of poultry you are interested in. This is primarily based on what you want to do with your birds and the resources you have available. Some urban and suburban areas prohibit keeping of any poultry, while others stipulate which birds you may or may not keep.

Will you or your children be caring for the birds? Will you be raising them for show, for profit, for entertainment or some other reason? Do you have existing buildings you can use, or do you have to build new ones?

There are a number of possible reasons for raising poultry: Chickens are typically raised for meat, eggs, exhibition and feathers, though some people keep them as pets. Ducks are typically raised for meat, eggs or exhibition. Geese are typically raised for meat, exhibition, feathers or down. Pigeons can be kept for meat (squab), exhibition or entertainment for show, but can also be raised for meat.

Source of stock: Start with vigorous, healthy stock that has been developed for high productivity. If egg production is your objective, lightweight, egg-type breeds such as White Leghorn strains, weighing 31/2 to 4 pounds at maturity, are recommended for white eggs. Purchase medium-weight, dual-purpose strains of white or barred Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red or first-generation crosses for meat and eggs. These types lay brown eggs. Eggshell color does not affect food value, but it influences market price. Usually, brown shell eggs sell for more than white shell eggs.

Birds grown for meat broilers, roasters are usually crosses between a white Cornish male, a white-feathered female, such as a meat-type white Plymouth Rock. Broilers are usually grown seven to eight weeks to reach a weight of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds. Roasters are 8- to 12- week-old chickens that weigh 5 pounds or more. Meat-type pullets do not make good egg layers because they lay fewer eggs and require more feed than egg- or dual-purpose types. A fast-growing strain cross of Cornish-type broilers is recommended if you want to produce quality poultry meat.

Exhibition-type chickens such as bantams and exotic breeds are recommended for pets or show. These birds have been bred for beauty and form rather than egg or meat production. Contact the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University for sources of exhibition-type poultry because breeders are limited.

One way to start a flock is to purchase day-old chicks. Young chicks require a lot of care and supplementary heat during the early weeks. Make sure the birds have been tested and are free of pullorum and typhoid diseases.

For more information on management practices, consult your local K-State Research and Extension agent, local hatchery or feed supplier for sources of good stock. Buy your stock from the nearest source that has the type of birds you want.

Source: Scott Beyer, KSU Extension poultry specialist.

Childhood obesity

Children today are consuming close to 200 more calories a day from snacks than they did in the 1970s. Replacing a calorie-dense snack food with a fruit or vegetable could reduce calorie intake and improve diet quality.

Swapping common snack foods with a 1/2-cup serving of fruits or vegetables can be done without compromising a household's food budget.

Consumption of snacks among children has increased markedly over the last 35 years. In the late 1970s, American children consumed an average of only one snack a day. Today, they are consuming nearly three snacks per day. As a result, daily calories from children's snacks have increased by almost 200 calories over the period. Many of the snacks children consume are high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as desserts and salty snacks. Trends in snacking, combined with larger portion sizes and more sedentary lifestyles, may be contributing to the incidence of overweight and obesity among children.

Despite its likely role in childhood obesity, snacking may provide a mechanism for addressing this obesity problem and improving diet quality. Replacing one energy-dense snack each day with a fruit or vegetable could reduce caloric intake and decrease the prevalence of overweight and obesity.

For example, a child replacing 1 ounce of potato chips (150 calories) with a cup of grapes (104 calories) or a medium-sized apple (95 calories) would consume 46 to 55 fewer snack calories. If done on a daily basis, all else equal, this simple behavior could result in about half a pound less of body weight at the end of a month. And, replacing desserts or salty snack foods with fruits and vegetables has the added bonus of reducing a child's intake of added fats and sugars.

But is this likely to increase food costs? The reality is that replacing a snack with a fruit or vegetable need not break a household's food budget.

Source: e-Extension