Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 1 - June, 2020


Teaching Youth Entrepreneurship Through Small Ruminant Value Added Commodities: A Pilot Study

Travis, A. , Agent, University Of Maryland Extension
Ketterman, J., Agent, University Of Maryland Extension
Wang, C., Coordinator, University Of Maryland Extension
Schoenian, S., Sheep & Goat Specialist, University Of Maryland Extension
Semler, J., Principal Agent, University Of Maryland Extension


In the summer of 2019, the Washington County 4-H Educator and Western Maryland Family and Consumer Sciences Finance Specialist developed the 4-H Entrepreneurship Program. This program exposed youth ages 14-18 to animal science focused entrepreneurship by giving them the opportunity to build a small business selling sheep pelts from the lambs that were used in a research study at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research and Educator Center. During the program youth participated in bi-weekly lessons from June until August that taught them entrepreneurship skills and assisted them in building their very own small business. Youth learned how to write and implement a business plan, keep diligent records of income, expenses, and inventory, how to understand loans, write and implement a marketing plan, and strategically market products to customers. Youth were expected to attend a session in order to prepare (scraping and salting raw hides) their sheep hides for tanning at a local tannery. They also were able to tour the tannery once the hides were ready for processing. Through this program youth had the potential to profit $300 from their businesses. Through pre- and post-tests youth showed significant knowledge gain in specific areas associated with entrepreneurship.


According to a study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “70% of college students think they possess the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Employers, on the other hand, are far less optimistic. Less than a third think newly minted college grads are ready for the real world." This study also found that employers are starting to value skills far beyond academics alone (Hyde and Bravo, 2015). In addition to the lack of critical thinking skills, “nearly 3 in 4 employers say they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills their companies need” (Wilkie, 2019). According to Wilkie (2019), the skills these employers are referring to include: communication, interpersonal, and listening skills.

The 4-H Youth Entrepreneurship Program was developed to provide youth with the skills to develop an agricultural enterprise. Using sheep from our research facility, youth created a business plan and sold a value added commodity, sheep pelts. According to Advani et al. (2015), “Many of the skills expected of today's youth, such as perseverance, problem solving, and communication, are associated with an entrepreneurial mindset.” Kim et al. (2018) identify two gaps in entrepreneurship education; lack of programs in a rural context and limited programs that engage youth in their potential for personal development. In this program youth participated in sessions on goal setting, record keeping, marketing, and financing. The participants developed a business plan to sell the sheep pelts. This program occurred in a rural context and incentivized students by allowing them to keep profits from the sales. Youth developed skills in communication, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

The 4-H Youth Entrepreneurship Program also gives youth perspective on value-added commodities within the agricultural industry. “Value added products are defined by USDA as having a change in the physical state or form of the product” (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 2020). In this program, youth utilized sheep pelts as their product. The sheep pelt industry was once a very profitable business for many producers, however, now the domestic and global markets have drastically seen a reduction in the value, and demand for the product. According to the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI): “there is currently no market for American sheep skins. The highest quality, unshorn premium pelts have lost 95% of their value since March.” "Currently (as of 11.08.19), sheepskin pelts have a negative value. Producers have to pay the processor to get rid of them” (Schoenian, 2019b). Many small, direct market producers are still processing (tanning) sheep hides and selling them as value-added products to increase their main enterprise profits. Sheep hides in their raw form have little value in today’s market, but once processed can be sold for a premium price.


Research Base

Norman and Jordan, as indicated in their 2016 factsheet, express that 4-H Youth Development is rooted deeply in the Experiential Learning Model, and the application of do, reflect, and apply. Within this model youth perform and do the activity in order to experience it. From there youth share results, reactions, and observations publicly, and process and analyze the experience. In the final step, they connect their experiences with real world examples and apply their experiences (Norman & Jordan, 2016). The 4-H Entrepreneurship Program was designed with this model at its core. This program gave youth the opportunity to experience their very own business, and then ultimately decide whether this would be something they would want to consider in their future.

When exploring the research base for this program, it is important to note that 4-H is rooted in the approach of positive youth development (PYD). Within this approach the 4-H Thriving Model can be applied to the 4-H Youth Entrepreneurship Program. The 4-H Thriving Model starts with the Development Context. This includes Youth Sparks, which are interests and passions that youth have, and providing a place for those interests and passions to be explored, “offering programs that follow youth program quality principles with a focus on youth belonging”, and continuing to develop youths relationships with positive, and caring adults. When programming is done well, these three facets of the Developmental Context help youth to thrive. Thriving youth are then able to start on the Thriving Trajectory which ultimately will lead to reaching key developmental outcomes. These development outcomes are all indicators of Positive Youth Development (Arnold, 2018).



In mid-April of 2019, sixty-four lambs arrived at one of the University of Maryland’s Agricultural Experiment Stations, the Western Maryland Research and Education Center (WMREC). The main purpose of these lambs was for The Maryland Small Ruminant Research team to compare growth, carcass characteristics, and fertility traits of ram lambs, wether (castrated males) lambs, and short-scrotum ram lambs (ram whose testicles have been pushed up inside his body cavity, but whose scrotum has been removed, similar to a bilateral cryporchid) (Schoenien, 2019a). The research component of the study concluded in mid-August when the lambs were processed.

Since 2018, The Maryland Small Ruminant Research team has welcomed the addition of two new youth programs, the Small Ruminant Research Academy, started in 2018, and the newest pilot program, the 4-H Entrepreneurship Program, started in 2019.


Recruitment and Selection

Youth for the 4-H Entrepreneurship Program were recruited through a flyer, county newsletters, and social media. Participants completed an application, including an essay explaining why they would like to participate in the program. Youth were not required to have any preexisting knowledge of business planning, marketing, or livestock.

Eight youth were accepted into the program from three states, including Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Of the five youth from Maryland, they reside in three counties. Several youth who participated in the program did not have any interest in agriculture, but instead were interested in starting their own business.

The eight participants were recruited to participate in the program research following the guidance of the institutional Review Board for the University of Maryland. Each participant was given the opportunity to opt out of the study and consented to participate. No questions in both pre- and post-surveys asked the identifying information and the whole process of conducting this research was confidential and anonymous.


Program Sessions

Once selected youth and their parents attended an orientation session in order to learn more about the program, the expectations, the pelt industry, and to answer questions.

Starting in June, youth participated in bi-weekly lessons until August that taught them entrepreneurship skills and assisted them in building their very own small business focused on marketing the sheep pelts from the lambs used in the research study. Youth learned how to write and implement a business plan, keep diligent records of income, expenses, and inventory, understand the lending process, write and implement a marketing plan, and strategically market products to customers.

The sessions were conducted in the evenings at the local extension office. Each session included a 45 minute presentation from a guest speaker (Extension Educators and Specialist), the lessons focused around one aspect of entrepreneurship (overview of business planning, record keeping and budgeting, marketing products, loans/borrowing money), and then time for the youth to work on their business plans.

Each youth was expected to complete a business plan through the University of Minnesota’s Ag Plan software program. This program is utilized to assist new and existing agriculturalists with writing business plans. However, the software is very easy to use, enabling the youth to create a business plan. The program employs several functions that make it user friendly for young people. Each tab within the business plan is clearly labeled, provides a lot of detail on the individual topic, and gives examples at the bottom of the screen. Youth were not expected to utilize all features of the business plan format, but were directed to the most basic elements of creating a business plan. Youth completed the following elements: 1) business overview, including a business description, 2) setting goals, 3) budgets, 4) ownership structures, and 5) marketing, including customers, pricing, and target market. The program also allows other people to view the document, which allowed the Educators access to review and a way to provide suggestions and comments. This program is delivered through an online platform with a username and password, allowing youth the opportunity to work on their plans at home. Many of the program participants took advantage of this opportunity and continued to enhance, and perfect their plans on their own time. Table 1 indicates the session date, session topic, and objectives for each.



Table 1. 4-H Youth Entrepreneurship Program Session Dates, Topics, and Objectives

Session Date Session Topic Session Objectives
5/13/2019 Program Orientation


  • Learn about the sheep pelt market and market trends.
  • Understand the numerous uses for sheep pelts.
  • Understand the expectations of the program.

6/10/2019 Session #1: Overview of Business Planning


  • Understand the broad concepts of entrepreneurship and business planning.
  • Design and compose a business description and goals for their business plan.

Guest Speaker: Careers in Agriculture

6/24/2019 Session #2: Record Keeping and Budgeting


  • Learn and understand why record keeping and budgeting are important for businesses.
  • Understand ownership structures.
  • Create a budget for their business.

Guest Speaker: Record Keeping and Budgeting for Agricultural Producers 

7/8/2019 Session #3: Marketing


  • Explore how to market products to customers.
  • Understand the importance of value-added commodities to small businesses.
  • Determine target markets and customers.
  • Determine how to price products.
  • Create a marketing plan for their business.
  • Create marketing materials for their product and business.

Guest Speaker: Marketing Products

7/22/2019 Session #4: Loans and Borrowing Money


  • Understand the concepts of loans and borrowing money.
  • Finalize budget.
  • Understand the loan process and terms associated with business loans.
8/9/2019 Pelt Preparation Work Day


  • Assist scraping and salting the pelts to prepare them for the drying process.
  • Learn aspects of taxidermy and preparing products for the tanning process.
8/19/2019 Session #5: Business Plan Presentations


  • Demonstrate public speaking skills in order to present business plans to fellow participants, parents, and instructors of the program.
  • Provide feedback on peers' business plans.
8/20/2019 Tour of Bucks County Fur Products, Inc.


  • Tour a small business that has been in business for many years, and ask questions pertaining to business planning and marketing.



Pelt Preparation, Tanning, and Business Plan Presentations

In August the lambs were ready to be processed and the raw hides were retrieved from the processing facility (Figure1).


Figure 1. Raw sheep hides from the processor.


Youth attended an all-day session in order to prepare (scraping and salting raw hides) their sheep hides for tanning at a local tannery. Once the hides were scraped of any excess material, they were salted, and hung to dry for almost two weeks. The county fairgrounds provided the venue for the hides to dry, and to ensure they were not disturbed. The team utilized pallets and stapled the hides to the pallets to dry. The hides were salted every day to ensure they were drying properly during this time (Figure 2).


Figure 2. 65 sheep hides that were scraped, salted, and stapled to pallets to dry for almost two weeks at the county fairgrounds. Plastic and pelletized bedding were used under the pallets for ease of cleaning.


Once the hides were ready for processing, they were taken to Bucks County Fur Products, Inc. in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. This company has specialized in tanning sheep pelts since 1954 (Bucks County Fur Products, Inc., 2020). The owners of the company gave the youth a tour of the facility and talked about the process of tanning sheep pelts. The pelts were at the tannery for approximately six weeks.

During the tanning process the youth met one additional time in order to present their business plans to their fellow program participants, their parents, and some of our guest speakers. The youth not only practiced their public speaking skills, but had to defend their ideas for marketing their products. Most enhanced their presentation with a PowerPoint and display materials (Figure 3).


Figure 3. A program participant delivering her business plan presentation.



When the hides returned from the tannery each youth received six hides to sell (Figures 4 and 5). The participants received an invoice detailing when their “loans” were expected to be paid back. This program was funded by the researchers, but youth were expected to pay back the costs of tanning and the materials that were needed to prepare the hides. Repayment was due 60 days and 120 days, respectively, from the time of pick-up. The youth were not charged for any employees’ time, or the mileage to deliver and pick-up the pelts from the tannery. Each youth set their own prices for their hides. On average each youth had the potential to profit $300 from this project.



Figure 4. Fully processed natural colored sheep pelts when they returned from the tannery.



Figure 5. Pelts packaged for customers by one program participant.



Program Evaluation and Analysis Method

A pre- and post-survey design was used to evaluate the program effectiveness (Davis et al., 2018). A pre survey was administered at the beginning of the first session, and then a post survey was administered to the same participants after the program. Results were analyzed by SPSS version 25 for Windows. Descriptive statistics were calculated for the pre- and post-survey questions. Then, a Wilcoxon signed rank test was used to test the statistically significant difference between pre and post survey results, in order to capture the program impact.



After completing both the pre and post survey 100% of youth indicated a knowledge gain when asked how much they know about entrepreneurship (starting a business) and 100% of youth indicated a knowledge gain when asked if they can list and describe the steps an entrepreneur takes to start a business (Table 2). At this point 75% of the youth who completed the program have sold all six of their sheep hides and have profited approximately $300.

Due to the extremely small size and non-normal distribution, Wilcoxon signed rank test was used to find out whether or not there was a statistically significant difference between the two occasions. Before running Wilcoxon sighed rank test, the internal consistency among pre survey questions and post survey questions had been calculated by Cronbach’s alpha coefficient. The Cronbach alpha coefficient for pre questions was .817, and .622 for post questions, which indicated the acceptable value for both pre and post questions (Griethuijsen et al., 2014). Results of the Wilcoxon signed rank test revealed statistically significant increasing in knowledge of starting a business (z=-2.33, p=.020, r=.78), what a business plan is and how it’s used(z=-2.07, p=.038, r=.69), listing and describing steps an entrepreneur takes to start a business(z=-2.25, p=.024, r=.75), developing and identifying steps needed to create business(z=-2.33, p=.020, r=.78), and describing elements of record keeping and budgeting(z=-2.23, p=.025, r=.74) following participation in the program, with a large effect size.



Table 2. Pre- and post-survey questions and results.


Pre-Test Mean


Post-Test Mean


Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test
How much do you know about Entrepreneurship? 1.75 2.57 .020*
I can describe what a business plan is, and how it is used. 1.63 2.43 .038*
I can list and describe the steps an entrepreneur takes to start a business. 1.25 2.43 .024*
I have developed at least one idea for a business, and can identify the steps I need to take to create the business. 1.63 2.57 .020*
I can describe elements of record keeping and budgeting.  1.88 2.57 .025*
I can describe steps to market a product. 1.88 2.43 .059
I can evaluate options to borrow money. 1.75 2.43 .059



The post-survey also included an open-ended question that asked youth to share what they felt were the most important things they learned by completing the program. Of the youth that responded to this question (n=5), 100% expressed that the most important thing they learned was one of the major topics discussed over the course of the program (i.e. marketing, loans, the many aspects of a business, creating business plans, new ways to earn money). One youth thought marketing was the most important part of what they learned and shared, “to be able to market myself and my various ideas in the future as well as bring to light an idea on what is important to the consumer." Another youth commented, “I now know how to apply for a loan which will be useful in life.”



As with any study, there are limitations to the research. One primary limitation was the number of participants in the program. The 4-H Entrepreneurship Program is a very intense program, which requires many hours of dedication on both the participants' side, but also the facilitators' side. Due to the nature of the program, and the intensity of the experience that the youth are receiving, it cannot accommodate a large number of participants. With eight youth in the program, 64 sheep pelts were processed, which also equates to a large upfront investment of monetary resources from the program. To ensure the validity of the evaluation results for a small sample size triangulation of data occurred. The pre- and post-survey evaluation included quantitative data collection, and the post-survey evaluation also included qualitative data collection allowing for triangulation across results.

 The experience and background of the participants was another limitation. Some youth had no background with small ruminants, while others had considerable knowledge. The program was facilitated during one summer in one location, which can be a limitation to the study.



The 4-H Entrepreneurship Program results from its first year, certainly show that the program is meeting its goal to provide youth with the skills they need in order to develop an agricultural, entrepreneurial enterprise. Through this program youth are not only developing entrepreneurship skills to create their very own small business, but is also providing youth with skills that they will continue to utilize into adulthood, and throughout their lives.

Throughout the spring of 2020 the program facilitators continued communication with the youth who completed the pilot study and follow-up with them to gather additional information on their marketing strategies, if they are continuing another entrepreneurship business, and if they are utilizing skills that they learned as a result of this program, etc.

As the program continues into its second year in the spring of 2020, a new value-added commodity product will be utilized: wool. Many youth who completed the pilot study have expressed interest in returning for the second year. These youth will not only be expected to complete the program, but to also teach some of the basic concepts that they learned in 2019.

This program was also a result, and a great example, of a multi-programmatic approach. This program utilized specialists and faculty members from the Agricultural Experiment Station and county/cluster-based Educators from 4-H Youth Development, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Agriculture.



This program would not have been possible without the assistance of Susan Schoenian, Jeffrey Semler, Ginger Myers, and the entire Maryland Small Ruminant Research Team. Thank you all!


Literature Cited

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