It's not really about the cows, sheep, hogs, chickens and horses. Livestock judging teams are about critical thinking and communication skills, said a University of Georgia scientist.
CAES team's win
Just home from the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., Kyle Rozeboom said the UGA livestock judging team showed poise and finesse in competing with 27 other state teams.
The UGA team won first in the carload cattle judging and placed in the top 10 in the livestock judging.
"This team is selected from the fall semester beginning livestock judging class because of the promise and skills they show during class," Rozeboom said.
An animal science instructor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Rozeboom coaches the livestock judging team.
By October, the team forms and begins intensive practice. But many of the students on the team have been doing this since elementary or high school.
"You can tell the ones who have," Rozeboom said. "Even other instructors know which students have been in judging events by their poise and confidence."
Students can start learning early
Through UGA 4-H programs, students can learn judging skills as early as the fifth grade. During competitions, students compare animals, then rank them and prepare reasons why they ranked the way they did.
"The programs teach youths how to make sound decisions," said Laura Perry Johnson, a UGA 4-H livestock specialist. "Then they have to defend their decisions with clear communication."
Learning and succeeding as a team and individually
Team members also learn to work together to help each other learn about the animals they're judging. "You can't win these competitions by yourself," Johnson said.
Rozeboom said team members don't have to go into livestock careers to benefit. They carry the skills they learn into other areas of their lives.
"These personal skills -- the decision making, prioritizing, speaking and leadership skills -- stay with you no matter what you choose to do," he said.
Johnson is more than enthusiastic about judging programs. "It's because of my meat- and livestock-judging background that I'm in the career I chose," she said. "I've seen kids decide on a career because of their involvement with judging events."
County 4-H programs can sponsor judging teams for livestock, poultry, horses, dairy cattle, consumer products, wildlife, land and forestry.
"So even if you can't commit to care for livestock, you can learn consumer skills and other life skills that will serve you throughout life," Johnson said.
4-H judging participants compete for local and county honors, state and national trips, awards and scholarships. College judging teams compete for scholarships, trips and awards.
"There's no way I could have seen the things I've seen in this nation had it not been for 4-H and college judging events," Johnson said. "This gives young people opportunities they may never have otherwise."
Get involved locally
Most counties begin forming many judging teams in early spring. The county extension office or 4-H leader can provide further information on joining a judging team.
(Elinor Ruark is a publications specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)