Following is a guest post from Marisa Linton. Marisa grew up showing and raising livestock, and currently lives on her family’s small farm in Mount Olive. She has shown animals at the N.C. State Fair for the past 14 years and is a past youth livestock scholarship recipient. She is an N.C. State University graduate, agricultural photographer and blogger.
For years, Judging in January has brought youth from across North Carolina to both compete in and learn about livestock judging. As the name implies, the event is held in January; however, there have been several years where Judging in January turned into Judging in February due to inclement weather. No matter what, though, the event is held. This year 141 youth participated. The event was held at the N.C. State University Beef Educational Unit in Raleigh.
“We were down a little. We’ve had close to 200 before, but when the FFA changed their competition dates, we lost some of that group,” said Brent Jennings, Extension 4-H youth livestock specialist. Still, Jennings still felt like it was a really good turnout.
A livestock judging contest has several parts. The first is placing a class of livestock in order of quality. Participants analyze a class of four animals and place them according to their breeding or market potential.
Participants also are expected to be able to defend their decisions to a judge. Finally, they must also be able to answer questions about certain classes. There is an official placing decided for all classes by a slate of judges. Contestants are scored on the accuracy of their placings in comparison to the officials. Scores are also given for the ability to answer questions about classes and how well an individual presents his set of reasons.
At the contest, the youth judged two classes of sheep, three classes of cattle, two swine classes and two classes of meat goats.
The event is not just about the competition. It is also an opportunity to learn. All participants were taught how to properly set up their notebooks for judging. In addition, a reasons workshop was offered.
“The youth have the opportunity to opt out of giving reasons for a score and go to a reasons workshop instead,” said Jennings. This year, Taylor Joyner, a senior at N.C. State University, taught the workshop. Joyner was a member of the national 4-H livestock judging team a few years ago, and has years of experience in judging.
In the workshop, youth not only learned the proper way to present a set of reasons, but they also went over new terminology and ways to really make their reasons be successful. Reasons are notoriously known as the most difficult concept to master in livestock judging, so a workshop like this is a perfect way for youth to become more confident at developing and presenting them.
Those who choose to attend the workshop instead of giving reasons for a score are still eligible for awards. While they will not be in the running for a top individual prize, they are still able to win awards in the sheep and goat categories. They also are able to walk away with a great deal of knowledge, and that is arguably more valuable than a ribbon.
When judging a class of four animals, analytical skills are used, and because they must place the class within a certain time frame, they learn to be decisive. Questions classes force youth to not just be aware of the details, but also to remember those details. Reasons classes teach public speaking, organization and the skill of being able to explain decisions made.
Finally, youth are learning how to recognize quality livestock. This skill not only benefits them if they wish to raise livestock, but it can give them job opportunities as livestock judges. The ability to determine quality livestock ultimately means better and healthier animal products. Youth may think they are simply placing a class of pigs, but in reality, they are developing lifelong skills.
Judging in January wouldn’t have been possible without the sponsorship of Farm Credit and the North Carolina Junior Hereford Association. Youth livestock events are made possible through the contributions of individuals, sponsors and proceeds from the N.C. State Fair Junior Livestock Sale of Champions. If you are interested in supporting youth livestock programs in North Carolina, you may make a gift or pledge any amount at http://go.ncsu.edu/statefairlivestock or by calling 919-515-7827. To participate in the Sale of Champions in October, contact Neil Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org. All gifts go towards the enrichment, betterment and education of N.C. youth.