Cedar the Goat Shines a Light on the Dark Reality of 4-H and FFA
I have seen firsthand the trauma these programs inflict on children and the violence they inflict on animals. It’s time we reform 4-H and FFA to no longer include programs where kids raise animals to die.
By now, many of you have probably heard the story that tugged at heartstrings across the world: a 9-year-old girl’s beloved goat, Cedar, was killed by law enforcement and barbecued. This story has surprised many, but as someone who has been working with 4-H and FFA kids for 8 years, I wasn’t surprised at all. The girl, who had raised Cedar as part of the 4-H youth program, auctioned Cedar off to a bidder at the Shasta District Fair. At the end of the fair, Cedar was supposed to go straight to a slaughterhouse. However, the girl realized she didn’t want him to die. The girl and her mom took Cedar to a farm to live out his life and promised the buyer and fair that they’d give them any money they were owed.
The Shasta District Fair began to threaten the girl and her mom and ultimately conspired with the local police to have Cedar killed. Shasta police officers drove 500 miles, without a warrant, to track down, confiscate, and have Cedar slaughtered.
Now, I know it might seem strange that they care so much about one goat, but the system of kids raising and auctioning animals for slaughter at fairs is a fragile one. Youth groups like 4-H were largely created as a mechanism of desensitization. If they can get young kids to harden their hearts by auctioning their beloved animals off for slaughter, perhaps those same kids will grow up and be desensitized enough to manage factory farms, slaughterhouses, and other establishments that would otherwise seem obviously cruel and corrupt. The fair even told the girl’s mother that the reason Cedar must be returned was because if they let her save her goat, other kids would wish to do the same. At least on that, the fair is likely right.
Several years ago, I stood outside of the Santa Barbara County Fair with a megaphone in hand. Behind me, children were readying to auction off their goats, pigs, lambs, and other beloved animals for slaughter. The children in question were part of 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America). At the time, I was a child myself, only 14 or 15. I was horrified by what this program was having my peers do to animals.
In my megaphone-amplified speeches, I pleaded with the other kids to pull their animals from auction. I explained to them exactly what happens in slaughterhouses, which is something 4-H and FFA notoriously try to hide from the children in their programs. In fact, when I was giving these speeches, parents and 4-H and FFA instructors would often get in my face and threaten me. One evening, three kids started counter-protesting us. They were probably about 10-years-old. They held signs that said “bacon.” The very next night, those three children returned, but this time they were listening to what I was saying. At one point, one of the girls came up to me and said, “Zoe, you made my friend cry.” I bent down, concerned, and asked, “How did I make your friend cry? Is she okay?” She replied, “While you were talking, she realized she doesn’t want to kill her pig.”
I hear this time and time again. Several kids reach out to me every year, pleading for help to save their animals. Sometimes, we are able to get their animals off of the fairgrounds and they get to live happily ever after. Other times, the fairs, 4-H, or FFA step in and there is little we can do. I’ve had children reach out and tell me that they were planning to pull their animal from auction, but their program leaders have threatened them. I’ve had children tell me that their program leaders have laughed at them and humiliated them in front of their peers for wanting their animal to live. Most of all, though, I’ve seen countless situations like the one Cedar faced, where the fairs threaten to get law enforcement involved if kids try to take their animals off of the fairgrounds. In one instance, we had to organize a pressure campaign with hundreds of people to convince a fair to let two boys save their pigs.
In response to my work, adults have sent me death threats, including one instance where someone sent me a photo of a gun and said they were going to kill me and my family. My social media posts have been flooded with thousands of hate comments from 4-H and FFA supporters across the country. I keep speaking up because I have seen firsthand the trauma these programs inflict on children and the violence they inflict on animals. It’s time we reform 4-H and FFA to no longer include programs where kids raise animals to die. Instead of hardening the hearts of our youth, let’s encourage them to let their hearts be filled with compassion for all living beings.
Zoe Rosenberg is an animal rights activist, a TEDx speaker, and an undergraduate at the University of California Berkeley. She founded Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, a 40-acre farmed animal sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, CA, at the age of 11. Since then, her organization has grown into one of the largest animal sanctuaries in California and has rescued over 1,000 animals. Rosenberg is also an organizer and the social media coordinator with the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere.