If you wanted a snapshot of 4H Americana, Ballinger’s Flanagan family would be the perfect picture to take. The family epitomizes the force that continues to make 4H great. Dad is Scott Flanagan, DVM; Mom is Mylea Flanagan, DVM; oldest daughter is Alyssa who works at the clinic owned by her parents, Southside Veterinary Clinic in San Angelo, has a bachelor’s degree in Food and Meat Science from Angelo State University and is going to be starting graduate school soon; Shane is in his sophomore year at Texas A&M, majoring in Animal Science; Avery is 17-years old and has shown champion sheep; Ben is 15-years old and is stacking up a pile of accolades of his own, including livestock championships.
The family raises fine wool and fine wool cross lambs, as well as Southdown Sheep. Like many 4H participants, they don’t limit their efforts to just competing in livestock shows, as Ben points out, “I show sheep and goats but I also participate in livestock judging, the Skillathon, Nutrition Quiz Bowl, food show, food challenge and entomology.” Ben is the youngest of the Flanagan family and has been participating in 4H for 7 years. His sister, Avery, is 2-years older and has been in 4H for 9 years. Between them they’ve won Reserve Grand Champion in medium wool at the Runnels County show, finished 2nd or 3rd three times at the San Antonio livestock show and have done well in other livestock shows around the state. Avery won 3 years in a row at the State Fair of Texas and this year she was named Supreme of All Breeds. Ben won the South Plains Fair this year. Mylea points out the variety of areas that 4H has, “There are so many categories other than just animals. There is photography, robotics, math, engineering, etc.” Scott and Mylea met while both of them were studying veterinary medicine at Texas A&M. Mylea says that they were warned by friends, “Don’t marry someone in your class. It doesn’t work out. But it has worked out great for us.”
Shane, big brother to Avery and Ben, was in 4H for a decade. He and Avery won the state completion in Educational Presentation. The subject? Reproduction Technologies in Sheep and Goats. The presentation included such topics as ultrasounds and embryo transfer. It would be an understatement to say that 4H is the heart and soul of the Flanagans.
If you ask an adult, with a full-time job, how many hours they worked last week, or the previous week or last month, they’d tell you immediately. Ask Avery or Ben how many hours they spend with their animals and Avery says, “Um, 4-5 hours ever day with the goats and Southdown Sheep, maybe a little more. So maybe 35-40 hours a week.” That doesn’t include the time they Flanagan youth spend in practicing for the Skillathon or practicing for the Quiz Bowl or studying for the food challenge, researching entomology, etc.
Mylea says that Shane was a Livestock Ambassador for 4H and got to travel to California and to Argentina, “He worked really hard at it.”
Shane was named Outstanding Freshman of the Texas A&M College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. There are an estimated 12,000 students enrolled in the college, studying in one or more of the 100+ degree programs in the 14 departments for undergraduate and graduate students. Shane is also a member of the highly vaunted Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. He says that the time invested in 4H and the time competing at livestock shows can pay off in several ways, “I think being in 4H gave me a leg up over other students in almost all of my Animal Science classes. I’d already been doing Animal Sciences for years by the time I started classes at A&M. My freshman and sophomore classes were basically things I already knew.” He says that being part of 4H helped in other ways, “One thing it did was give me connections. I already knew some fellow students and professors through 4H competitions and livestock shows.” Scott says being part of 4H helped with Shane getting scholarships, “He received about $60,000 in scholarship money from 4H related activities.” Scott says that 4H has helped kids with scholarships for years, “Every year people strive so hard in 4H to always do more and to be better. 4H has brought millions of dollars in scholarship money just to this area over the years. That’s huge.”
Time is a rare commodity for the family. Scott and Mylea have their full-time jobs as veterinarians but the kids are also homeschooled. Avery says that being part of 4H helps them with aspects of life that some homeschooled students don’t often get, “It really helps with socializing skills.” Scott says it is a far-reaching aspect, “4H provides a lot of outlets for interactions. The kids probably know as many kids around the state as they do locally and that can help them throughout life.”
The Flanagans have 100 registered ewes and Dorpers and will raise around 40 lambs this year. Last year Avery won champion market lamb in Fort Worth and San Angelo with her Southdown lambs. Ben and Avery both agree that the most time consuming aspect is keeping the lambs exercised and keeping them looking good for competitions. Ben says that they exercise the animals every day, “We put them on there for about 90 minutes each morning.” Scott says that the time needed to raise animals is the wake-up call for some people, “A lot of folks don’t realize the amount of time it takes to show a high-quality animal.”
The cost of traveling to livestock shows around the state can be a little surprising to some, as Scott points out, “The cost can be a little overwhelming. I see that as a downside. If you want to compete on the state or national level, it costs a lot of money. It takes resources to compete at an elite level. But, you can use less expensive feed and pay less for animals and you can still do well at the shows.” He says that one category that is on the rise is Breeding Sheep, “They aren’t as popular as they could be. The upside is that the kids get to keep the animals. The Breeding Sheep show is less intensive and a little slower pace.”
Perhaps, overall, the most impactful aspect of 4H is how it prepares the kids for the future, no matter their endeavor. Scott says that it’s a big part of 4H, “The personal development side of 4H can’t be overstated. They know how to interact, socialize, build a strong work ethic and have a greater understanding of many areas of life. 4H gives them a great start and really helps them out.”
With parents as veterinarians, Shane says that the learning is ongoing, “Dad always gives us scenarios and we have to figure them out. We’ll be doing something or walking along and he’ll just give us a scenario to discuss.”
Avery and Ben both agree about the impact that 4H has had on them. Avery says that the work is rewarding, “It’s definitely a lot of work but it’s worth it. I’ve learned so much and met so many friends through it.” Ben agrees, “It really is a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun getting to meet new people and see new places.” Mylea agrees, “They work really hard. We travel to the livestock shows, practice for competitions, work together and help each other out with whatever someone might be working on. We all pull together.”
Mylea says that Runnels County has been fortunate to have the level of extension agents that have come through over the years, “We’ve had so many great Extension agents over the years and Marty Vahlenkamp is a tremendous Extension agent. He does so much for the program and we’re fortunate to have someone like him here.”
Scott astutely sums up 4H, “My dad was an Ag teacher. I grew up a member of FFA but 4H really excites us. Most times in some other program you might take your kid and drop them off or they take some class in school, but 4H is family oriented. We do it all together, like the skillathon. We study as a family and it makes us strong as a family, strengthens our core and brings us closer together. I always encourage parents to be part of 4H with their kids. These days kids can go an entire day without interacting with their parents or siblings. But with 4H, you’re together as a family and it’s rewarding. 4H teaches real-world skills that you can use your entire life.”