Hundreds of youth from across Louisiana will be gathering in Gonzales next month for the 78th annual LSU AgCenter Livestock Show at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

LSU AgCenter officials say they expect more than 2,000 4-H and FFA exhibitors to bring about 1,500 breeding animals, 1,600 market animals, 180 pens of broilers and 700 exhibition birds to the competition on Feb. 9-16.

By the time those 4-H and FFA members reach the state show, they already will have competed in parish and district competitions across Louisiana during the first few weeks of 2013. All will arrive in Gonzales aiming to be state champions -- or at least to earn rewards for their hard work and dedication.

Judges at the show determine the winners in various breeds of beef and dairy cattle, goats, hogs, poultry and sheep.

A highlight of the show is the Premier Exhibitor Program, which places emphasis and recognition on exhibitors’ knowledge and skills in the 4-H and FFA livestock projects. Supported by an endowment from Gerry Lane Enterprises in Baton Rouge, the program is available to participants exhibiting beef, dairy, swine, sheep, poultry and goats. Testing all facets of the youths’ ability in their livestock projects, the contest comprises an interview, a resume, a test, a skill-a-thon and showing abilities.

One exhibitor will receive the Price LeBlanc Champion Livestock Award, which is presented to one grand champion market animal each year from among five species -- steers, swine, sheep, chickens and goats. The award is funded by an endowment from Price LeBlanc, a Baton Rouge automobile dealer.

The livestock show also includes a quality assurance and ethics certification program that educates youth on proper and ethical use of animal health products ensuring a high-quality, wholesome product.

Organizers say youth livestock projects provide a means for families to come together to participate in quality educational activities. Young people say participating in the program gives them opportunities to make new friends, see old friends and gain valuable experience. And everyone agrees it helps youngsters develop character and hone skills that will benefit them, their families and their communities throughout their lives.

While the annual event may be called a livestock show, it’s more about the young people than their animals, said LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson.“This event provides an opportunity for some of the most outstanding youth in the state to receive recognition for their hard work in learning not only the scientific principles that must be mastered but also the responsibility required to raise this wide array of animals. This show also is about the dedication of the many parents, teachers, volunteer leaders, 4-H agents and FFA advisers who have worked with the young people to help them grow as people and responsible citizens.”

As a result of what they learn, generations of young people who have participated in LSU AgCenter livestock projects go on to become leaders – whether in the livestock industry or a variety of other fields ranging from medicine to government, Richardson said.

“Livestock shows and livestock projects give a glimpse of some of the best young people in the state and some of the brightest outcomes of our youth development programs,” said LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor Paul Coreil.

“Every one of those animals is accompanied by a champion young person,” Coreil said. “In this show, all the participants are winners -- whether their animals are named champions or not -- because what they’ve learned will benefit them throughout their lives.

Youth participating in livestock projects gain knowledge of animal husbandry -- including selection, genetics, nutrition, health, showing, economics and marketing of livestock, said livestock show manager Dwayne Nunez. “But they also develop skills such as communication, leadership and cooperation.”

Competition in various phases of the show will begin almost as soon as the first animals are checked in on Saturday, Feb. 9, and will continue daily through Feb. 16.

An awards ceremony will conclude the activities at 4 p.m. on Feb. 16. It will recognize champion market animal exhibitors, champion showmanship winners and Premier Exhibitors as well as recipients of the annual Superintendent of Education Award, Attorney General Award and Governor Awards.

More information on the show and the variety of research and educational activities offered by the LSU AgCenter is available online at www.lsuagcenter.com and through LSU AgCenter parish offices.