A skillathon is an event that uses the experiential learning model of doing, reflecting, and applying to test one’s knowledge. The word “skillathon” is derived from the suffix -athon, which means an event, and the prefix skill, or what is being tested at the event.
In New York, skillathons can include anywhere from five to ten stations, each taking about five minutes to complete, although stations can be changed to fit the time available. Some skillathons offer different age- or skill-appropriate stations for novice (first time participants) to juniors and seniors. Youth move from station to station attempting to perform tasks such as matching breeds with descriptions, labeling animal body parts, identifying feed samples, demonstrating safe handling techniques, etc.
Skillathons are often conducted in connection with fairs. Since 2011, over 10,000 youth in NY youth have participated in nine animal-related skillathons during the New York State Fair. Species included beef, dairy, dog, goat, horse, poultry, rabbit, cavies (guinea pigs), sheep, and swine. Although contests may have different names such as the Dairy Challenge, Hippology, Rabbit & Cavy Science Decathlon, Poultry Judging and Dog or Livestock Skillathon, they are all Skillathons.
Participants are given 4 minutes at each station to answer verbal questions. There are 10 stations in the NYS 4-H Rabbit Science Decathlon, including:
- Anatomy & Physiology (involves questions about mammalian digestive systems, body parts, bones etc.) 3 divisions
- Nutrition (involves questions about feed content, water and feed requirements, nutritional needs for different stages of development) 3 divisions
- Housing & Equipment (involves questions about hutches, cages, floor space, nest boxes, feeders, ventilation, environment in general) 3 divisions
- Health & Diseases (includes questions about any health problem, identification of symptoms, treatments) 3 division
- Terminology (may include questions about breed standards) 3 divisions
- Reproduction & Genetics (involves questions about sexing, responsible breeding practices, general inheritance patterns) 3 divisions
- Breed Identification (All participants will identify 5 breeds of live rabbits. Novice will identify the breed only, Juniors will identify the breed and variety, Seniors will identify the breed, variety and class (4 or 6) or body type.) 3 divisions
- Records & Project Evaluation/Management (participants MUST bring a NYS 4-H Rabbit or Cavy Project Record to the station.) They are evaluated on what they know and have recorded. Record books can be found on the Rabbit and Cavy Project page.
- Handling & Evaluation (Novice and Junior participants handle, examine, pose and judge their own rabbit in front of a proctor). Bring a rabbit that you can handle and one for which you know the breed standard requirements. This station resembles showmanship in other states. Show coats are not required. Expected attire at this station will include either a long sleeve show coat of any color OR a long sleeve collared white button shirt. A live judging or culling component may be included for Seniors only.
- Standards of Perfection. Novice, Juniors and Seniors will have an opportunity to use a standard of perfection reference at this station. Participants should be familiar with body types and know the difference between full arched, semi-arched, commercial, compact, and cylindrical body types. Questions about judging a rabbit will also be asked.
Seniors Only have an opportunity to rank a live class of rabbits OR cull a young litter of bunnies. Seniors assess which rabbit would be judged higher on certain standard characteristics. These characteristics might include head, ears, general type, fur quality, color, markings, condition or disqualifications. In addition to choosing the correct rank order, the participant may be asked to state why the particular rabbits were selected.
For more information
Contact Brian Aukema at bja14 [at] cornell.edu.