4-H country ham project a Kentucky tradition

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By Roberta Hunt

One of the largest 4-H programs in Kentucky is the country ham project. Last year, over 750 4-H members started the eight-month program where 4-H members prepare their hams for the state fair competition. The country ham curing program is just one of many educational and character building programs 4-H offers that doesn’t require youth or their families to own considerable amounts of acreage, livestock or have a background in agriculture.

The program first began in 1998 with 35 youth and has grown to the program it is today. In the early years, Washington County participated with Nelson County youth, curing their hams at a Nelson County business. As county 4-H programs moved to building their own curing facilities, Washington County was absent from the program for several years until invited to house their hams in the Adair County 4-H ham house three years ago. Now Washington County 4-H is ready to build their own ham house with the help of Washington County Farm Bureau.  During the Washington Co. Farm Bureau Annual Meeting on September 19, one of the 2013 Washington Co. 4-H country hams was auctioned for $450.  The money will go to help finance the Washington County ham house.  

By having a ham house located in Washington County, more youth will be able to participate and transportation will not be a hardship for anyone. Applications to register for the program will be available in early November. Families should start thinking about whether 4-H members want to participate in the program for 2014, since there will be a quota for participation.

Here are additional facts about the KY 4-H Country Ham program that may be of interest to those thinking of getting involved. Counties east of Interstate 65 will put their hams in cure in January at a county extension office.  Many counties have their own ham houses or work in groups such as in Adair County, where they shared their facility with Hardin, Casey and Washington counties. Hams east of 1-65 are not smoked.

Counties west of I-65 work with professional ham curers, including Broadbents, Harper’s Country Hams, Clifty Farms and others, to put their hams in cure in January, February or early March. Hams west of I-65 are smoked.

At the fair, producers and meat buyers judge hams.  The hams are divided into two different categories, smoked and non-smoked, and by the age of the youth.  Hams are judged on aroma, lean -to-fat ratio and shape, but this is only 40 percent of the youth’s entire score. 

Youth must also present a five-to-seven minute speech about a topic related to the ham curing process, which counts for 60 percent of the score.

Last year, Washington County’s participants all won blue ribbons with two placing in the top five of their age categories.

The benefits of the program are many.  Youth develop responsibility during the eight months they cure the hams.  They learn to appreciate the value that is added to raw commodities.

While the project lasts eight months, most of the time is devoted to letting the ham age. 

Youth are responsible for washing, trimming and applying curing mix to the ham.  Most use pre-made cure mix from a local country ham producer or a county 4-H agent for youth development.

A second washing and curing application is done in either March or April, and final preparations for the state fair are done in August.  

In addition to curing the hams, youth must complete six hours of training in the livestock certification program before the state fair to be eligible to submit a ham to the contest. 

During this training, 4-H’ers learn the history of country ham production; the country ham industry and criteria judges look for in a prize-winning ham.

This wonderful hands-on project offers youth a chance to learn a skill and do their own work.  Members do not need any special knowledge because they are taught everything along the way.

This is an opportunity to show youth that persistence and care pays many dividends.

To enroll in the 4-H Country Ham Project, contact the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service at 336-7741.  4-H members’ names can be put on a list so more detailed information can be shared when the program contract becomes available.


Upcoming 4-H Activities

4-H Young Riders will meet on Monday, Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m. at the extension office.  This will be the annual Young Riders Awards Night.  The meal is potluck and everyone should bring two dishes to share.  New members are invited to attend.  Contact the extension office at 336-7741 to give attendance number.

The 4-H Sharpshooters will hold their awards night on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 6:30 p.m. at the River of Life.  This event is for current members and their families.

The 4-H Teen Club will go on their field trip on Wednesday, Oct. 23, to the Life Adventure Center.  Registration and fee is due to school sponsor, Mrs. Brothers or to the extension office no later than Friday, Oct. 18.

The 4-H Young Riders Fun Horse Show will be Saturday, Oct. 26, 3 p.m. at the Willisburg Community Park.  The show is open to all youth and adults and show bills are available from the extension office.  The public is invited to attend and watch the show.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disabilityor national origin.