Prepare for months. Show. Wait for the moment of truth: the judge’s opinion of your animal. For many 4-Hers, summer means livestock shows and the culmination of a year of hard work and careful selection. The results of those placings will often have great influence in the fall’s breeding decisions.
Every young livestock breeder spends time listening to the judges and learning more about livestock evaluation for improvement in their own herds. 4-H’s livestock judging program offers youth a chance to take the show into their own hands. The club’s livestock judging competitions turn the tables and takes young showmen from behind the animal to the center of the ring as the judge.
In the 4-H judging contests, teams of 4-H members are judged on their abilities to effectively and accurately rank animals according to specifics of the breed and species standards. Most judging competitions allow participants 15 minutes to place four animals. In addition, contestants must give a set of oral reasons explaining their decisions.
Beyond the benefits gained from learning to recognize and advance better stock, Oklahoma State University’s Animal Science department head, Dr. Clint Rusk says, “Livestock judging is an exceptional experience that helps youth make sound decisions and learn to support them.”
An expert in youth development, livestock evaluation and a respected livestock judge, he has spent years gauging the impact on youth participating in 4-H livestock judging programs.
Rusk explains that by thinking on their feet, 4-H members gain important life skills.
“Judging combines decision-making and public speaking. Decisions must be made within a set time, justified, and explained. In the simplest terms, 4-H livestock judging participants are getting leadership development. They connect, develop self-confidence and gain the ability to readily make good decisions,” he adds.
Ultimately, livestock judging competitions provide youth a chance to start making decisions in their own animal selection. Rusk says by practicing skills used in livestock judging, not just being judged, youth learn to professionalize their own assessments of stock, often making better decisions in their operations.”
In many ways, 4-H livestock judging competitions act on children’s love of animals to entice them into learning these important decision-making life skills.
“It capitalizes on their interest and passion in animals to get them involved at a new level,” Rusk says.
Throughout his career, Rusk notes that college students who participated in raising, showing and judging livestock are frequently leaders in their college environments.
Walking through our state fair and county fairs this summer, I was surprised just how many professionals at the trade booths, commercial tents and in and around the show ring were former 4-Hers and had shown or judged animals.
Perhaps 4-H livestock judging experience is on your resume? It promotes skills necessary for a professional selling or marketing role. Talk with your customers. Ask about their involvement in 4-H, livestock showing and judging. Those who have that experience will no doubt be willing to share a tale or two.
Mary Grace Erickson is 16 years old and a 9-year 4-H member. She raises dairy goats for production and show and poultry on a farm near Clarks Hill, Ind.