February 22, 2011

Dustin Worthington had a passion for cows. That passion was cut short when he was killed in a car accident at the age of 17, but his family continues to honor him and his love for the animals with an annual essay contest that awards registered heifers to 4-H and FFA members. The 2011 contest's March 3 deadline is rapidly approaching.

4-H and FFA members in good standing must submit an essay and a recommendation from their University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension 4-H agent or FFA adviser. Heifers will be awarded to winning entrants in each participating county and to each of two statewide winners from outside a participating county.

"One reason Extension is involved is that it's a youth program dealing with livestock," said Dana Anderson, Mercer County 4H Youth development agent. "A lot of farms are dwindling down, and more kids are trying to focus on programs that they can establish to help them build character and establish farm programs for themselves."

The award was established in 2000 when two registered beef heifers were donated and given away in Mercer and Boyle counties. Since then, organizers of the program have given away more than 130 heifers to youths who have a strong interest in cows.

"I got to thinking about it," said Dennis Worthington, Dustin's father, "and it was like Dustin said ‘Daddy, why don't you give a kid a cow? If he does it right, he'll make more with a cow than a couple hundred dollars will do him. He can do what he wants to do with it. He might buy a farm someday.'"

The fund acquires heifers in a variety of ways. They are purchased with contributions to the Dustin Worthington Memorial Fund or donated by participating farms and local cattlemen's and dairy associations. Many winners donate their first-born heifer calf back to the program.

"It's not mandatory," Worthington said. "But if a kid decides that they want to give it back, that means more to me. Then they feel like they've done something, too."

He said he has stayed in touch with Adam Gordon of Boyle County, one of the first year's participants, who by now has nearly $100,000 worth of cattle "standing in the field from that first heifer he got the first year."

For more information about how to enter the annual competition or contribute to the fund, talk to the county 4-H agent or FFA advisor or visit the official website at http://www.dustinworthingtonmemorial.org. Contributions to the not-for-profit foundation are tax deductible.