12 Lessons of the Barn

By Will Woodard | Madison, Georgia Long-time AgSouth Farm Credit members Dr. James and Janet Woodard of Madison, Georgia are the proud parents of Will Woodard, who presented this speech at the Georgia Junior Livestock Show Banquet earlier this year. The speech he gave, based on principals taught to him by his Dad, is presented below in its entirety. Congratulations to this remarkable young man!

By Will Woodard | Madison, Georgia

Just imagine one-year old Will walking to the barn in his boots and diapers to help his older sister feed her sheep. This was the start of a long journey of showing sheep and cattle. That journey has led me through nearly eighteen years of lessons, challenges, and memories. I’ve always been told, "It builds character…either that or we’re crazy." I would definitely say that showing livestock builds character and has influenced me in countless ways.

I started showing sheep in the first grade. This was the real start for my showing career. Going to shows with my older sister and showing in Pee Wee classes since I could walk, I had always dreamed of being able to take my own lamb into the ring and show for the first time. I was instantly hooked and fell in love with showing sheep when I took my first showmanship lamb "Elvis" into the show ring. I continued to show sheep for the next few years but I then decided to try something new. I started showing beef heifers in the third grade with a Simmental that I named "Megan." I will say she was crazy enough that at my first show, I cried because I had to show her again in the final drive for my showmanship, but I still enjoyed showing beef heifers and wanted to continue with that as well.

After a few years of showing cattle, my sister and I decided we wanted to start our own cattle farm. We decided to establish Whippoorwill Farms. My sister and I both raised Simmental and Simangus cattle along with the help of our father and our mentor, Mr. Carey. This project taught me many lessons and led me to many great experiences, including being named a National Finalist for the Beef Production Entrepreneurship Proficiency.

As my dad saw that I truly enjoyed showing sheep and cattle and spent lots of time with my project, he took advantage of an opportunity to teach me some life lessons along the way. He began teaching me what he called, "The Lessons of the Barn." When he taught a new lesson he would say, "Write this in your brain," and we would scribble the chapter over our forehead.

So please let me share with you the 12 Lessons of the Barn and join me in writing them in your brain:

We start the lessons with Chapter 12, "Perspective." My dad says I will understand this lesson later in my life, but he still believes it’s an important lesson to learn. As you go through life, you find yourself to be in different positions with different perspectives. You must always be willing and able to move to new perspectives as you go through life. Over the years, I myself have changed perspectives. I used to be the kid looking up to my older role models like my sister, Claire and others. I am now the one that younger kids look up to as their role model and I am able to find satisfaction knowing that I have influenced part of the next generation of show kids.

Next is Chapter 11, "Consistency." Consistency is an important aspect of daily lives. We are creatures of habit and we tend to do the same routines every day. Much like our show animals, we become anxious if we miss part of our daily routine. Mr. Jack Wall always says, "It’s what’s in the middle that counts." Everyone is always excited on the first day they get their animals and on the day of the show, but it’s the consistent daily practice and preparation that separate you from the rest of the pack.

Chapter 10 is "Joys and Discomforts." You may recognize this line from the FFA Creed. I personally have learned that there are many joys and discomforts to showing livestock and agriculture in general. We find joy when we succeed with what we have worked hard for, but we find discomforts when we fall short of our goals. We can always find joy on the first day we get our new show animals, but we are then faced with a large discomfort when we have to part ways with those animals after a long season of hard work.

Next we have Chapter 9, which is "Taking Pride in Your Work." My dad has always tried to instill the lesson in me since I was a young boy. He believes that you must be able to take pride in all that you do. He always tells me, "It’s quality over quantity." You must do whatever you do the best you can so you can take pride in what you’ve done.

Chapter 8 is the "Power of Thinking." This lesson has had to be reinforced a few times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the line from my dad, "Use your head for something besides a hat rack," or see Mr. Carey hold out his hat and say, "Here’s your thinking cap." I used to just let those lines go in one ear and out the other, but I’ve recently found that this helps in a lot of situations. If you sit back and think for a second before acting, you can normally find a better way to complete your task.

"Passion" is the seventh chapter. Whatever you do with your life, you must find something you’re passionate about. I was lucky enough to have two good examples of this because both of my parents have a passion for helping young people. My dad being a former ag teacher, and my mom being a 4-H agent, I always saw how passionate they were because of the countless extra hours they spent on their jobs. I have found a passion for agriculture and I truly encourage you to find something you’re passionate about.

The sixth lesson is "Loyalty." Loyalty is an important part of the livestock industry. We must be able to show loyalty to both our animals and the people in the industry. I have worked with Scott Carey in the beef barn and with Jack Wall in the sheep barn. My loyalty to them has given me loads of knowledge and skill that I could not have obtained without them. One of my favorite quotes is, "If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, remember he didn’t get there by himself," and I can tell you I didn’t get here without the people that are loyal to my endeavors, and none of this would be possible without the loyalty of the sponsors and supporters of the Junior Livestock Program. If you are one of these supporters or sponsors, please allow me, on behalf of the Junior Livestock exhibitors, to say, "Thank you" for your loyalty.

The fifth lesson is "Trust." Trust is the basis of every relationship. I learned that to be able to efficiently work with my sheep and heifers, they had to be able to trust me. Without that trust, I would not be able to accomplish any work. The same can be true with the relationships that I have with other people. My relationships with my family, my friends and co-workers must be built on that same foundation of trust.

The fourth lesson is "Compete against Yourself and Do Your Best." I know every exhibitor wants to win every time. The only problem with that is you’re always focused on what your competitors are doing. If you compete against yourself, you can channel your focus on what you are doing, which allows you to improve upon your skills. The second part, "do your best," is just as important as the first. You must always do anything to the best of your abilities and nothing less. That is how you gain respect and create personal growth.

The next few chapters take a different route. They focus more on who I can become.

Chapter 3 is "Love Yourself." While this may seem a self-centered and selfish lesson, it isn’t meant to be arrogant. It relates more to having self-respect. I must respect myself enough to surround myself with people who live by the same morals as me and to not harm my body in any way, shape or form.

Chapter 2 is "My Family Loves Me." I can always depend on my family to have my back. Family is an unbreakable bond that you will always have. To all of the parents in the room, thank you for your commitment and dedication. I personally know I can always count on my family to love and support me in any way they can and I know that with the bond families create through showing livestock, all of these exhibitors can say the same.

Finally, Chapter 1 is "God Loves Me." Chapter one is the chapter that will never fail. I can follow chapters two through twelve; however, when relationships become broken, when I don’t do my best or get caught up in what others are doing, when trust is lost, or my family is no longer there, I can always find chapter one, that God loves me. His love is forever and unconditional, and I can always find comfort in that.

I have learned many lessons from showing livestock over the past 17 years. I hope that you can take some of these lessons from this speech and use them to help you. As my show career draws to an end, I look forward to carrying these lessons on with me, and as I finish my last show, I will remember my favorite quote from Dr. Seuss, "Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened." Thank you, and good luck to everyone this week.