“Judging instills the confidence in those people who may be timid and humbles those who tend to be conceited.” — Harlan Ritchie –a Distinguished Professor of Animal Science at Michigan State University
About the blogger: Hello there! My name is Jara Settles and I am a 2011 graduate of Kansas State University where I earned a B.S. in animal science. In a couple weeks I will begin attending Washburn University School of Law to pursue a career in agricultural law. I grew up in rural Nebraska on a purebred cattle operation. After I graduated from high school I moved to Kansas to attend Butler CC to compete on their nationally renowned livestock judging team. After my time at Butler I transferred to KSU where I was active in Sigma Alpha as well as competing on the livestock and horse judging teams.
Personal judging history:During my time at Butler and KSU I was fortunate enough to have been a member of the National Champion and Reserve National Champion livestock judging teams respectively. I was recognized as an academic All-American for both junior and senior college divisions while holding an oral reasons scoring record at Louisville.
This fall I will start classes for the first time in four years without a large chunk of my schedule carved out for livestock judging practice. Although the stress, hard work and hours of practice are behind me I can’t help but be somewhat wistful when thinking about what that activity has meant in my life. Now it is time to pass the torch on to another generation of evaluators to try their hand at this extremely beneficial “sport” if you will.
So how does one get involved in livestock judging? If you have a passion for livestock, if you grew up on a farm and want to be a better selector of your breeding stock, or if you just want to learn more about judging then all you have to do is sign up. Being a member of the judging team doesn’t require a try-out, you just have to be enrolled in the correct livestock selection classes, taught at KSU by Dr. Scott Schaake and his assistant coaches. Talk to your academic advisor and they will enroll you in the correct courses. Keep in mind that most University level judging “runs” start with classes in the fall of your junior year, competition the spring of that same year and the fall of your senior year, with the spring of your senior year free.
What will be expected from me? Judging is just like anything else, the more you put into it the more you will get out of it. There is no question that previous experience is extremely beneficial, but do not assume that just because you are new to the activity you will not be successful. If you enter livestock judging with an open mind, and check your nerves at the door you are sure to learn a huge amount. Do not expect this to be like any of the other activities you’ve participated in. I liken the time commitment to playing a sport on the University level. Be prepared to spend evenings and weekends on the road, bonding with your teammates and gaining vast amounts of knowledge about the livestock industry as a whole.
How can I be good at it? No matter how much previous experience you may bring to the table you must approach judging with a clear and open mind. You must listen to the teachings of your coaches with full willingness to understand that “the way dad does it at home on the ranch” might not be the most successful way to win contests. Beyond understanding structural correctness, muscling and attractiveness of the four species (cattle, hogs, sheep and goats) you must be able to communicate what you see to another person orally. Many students find oral reasons to be quite challenging, but mastering the ability to be concise, accurate and pleasant to listen to will pay dividends in your professional life.
Why do it?There is no question that being a member of a judging team is HARD work, after all if it was easy everyone would do it, and nothing easy is worth doing anyway. Livestock judging not only gives you incredible ability in terms of oral communication and livestock selection which will serve you well in your future in the agricultural industry and life in general, but judging does so much more. Saying that you were a member of a judging team says a great deal about your character, and who you are as a person. I have encountered several key players in influential agricultural organizations who see me in a different light once my involvement in livestock judging is brought up. Dedication and perseverance take you places and the alumni of judging programs understand that. Another important benefit is the contacts you will make and friendships you will build with your teammates and even students you will be competing against on other teams. I count my own teammates from Butler and KSU as my very best and closest friends.
Final advice: Whether you have been showing or judging since you were old enough to know where milk comes from or if this is a brand-new adventure for you… if you have passion, a love for livestock and are willing to let your voice be heard… GO FOR IT! You will never regret trying, and if you’re like me, you will look back after four years of hard work and sorely miss the whole thing!