Someone unfamiliar with livestock judging may have wondered what ailment had come over the young people assembled in Room 150 of the Animal Science Lab on the University of Illinois campus. Everywhere one looked, teens were mumbling to themselves while they paced the floor.
The cause for the behavior was actually the preparation and practice phase of the oral reasons portion of the Illinois State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest held Monday, June 19.
That morning, 160 4-H members sorted class after class of cattle, sheep, goats, and swine from the highest quality to the poorest quality. The competitor who most closely matched the official judge placing was winner. Each class featured four animals, and members had to rank them top to bottom based on their visual inspection and performance data.
As difficult as that sounds, said Dan Jennings, U of I Extension 4-H animal science educator, that was the easy part. That afternoon, the oldest competitors returned to face a panel of judges to defend their morning placings without the use of their notes.
Teens took every moment possible to rehearse what they would say to the judge in hopes they would remember the key points when their turn came. Somehow pacing helps, one competitor joked, or at least calmed the growing anxiety of waiting to perform.
For Nick Hamilton of Edgar County 4-H, the secret of oral reasons isn’t trying to remember everything you wrote on your sheet, he said. “Just remember the big things, and paint a picture in your mind of what the class looked like.”
Still, even the most seasoned livestock judge feels the pressure when they walk in the judging room. A judge who is able to talk persuasively and accurately about the justification for their placing can score well in reasons even if they don’t match the official score perfectly.
“They have to be right in how they describe the animals,” said Daniel Shike, U of I animal science professor and coordinator of the state 4-H contest and judging team. “It’s important to be persuasive and have confidence when you present reasons, and that’s a skill they’ll need throughout life.”
Shike backs his belief with years of experience. A 4-H alum, Shike was a member, then coach of the state 4-H livestock judging team. His department provides the coaching staff for youth who will be representing Illinois 4-H in national competition.
“4-H livestock judging is important to me,” Shike said. “I see a lot of value in it.
“Livestock judging builds confidence, decision making, and communication skills,” Shike said. It also provides young people a means to travel to different livestock operations where they meet potential employers, he said.
While at the contest, Shike said he has an opportunity to talk to teens about attending U of I. Though many earn full ride scholarships to 2-year community colleges because of their 4-H judging success, some will continue a 4-year degree at U of I. Meeting Shike and his team of graduate students gives 4-H members common ground to learn and improve their judging skills.
Jennings praised Shike and the U of I ACES animal science team for their work in preparing youth for tough national competition. All those assisting on the day had successful judging careers themselves, Jennings said, which influenced their careers.
Eric Schafer of Christian County was the top individual in the 14 and older senior division. Other top 10 finishers included Maddie Fugate of Christian County, second; Cody Knodle of Montgomery County, third; Ty Drach of Livingston/McLean County, fourth; Clay Sundberg of LaSalle County, fifth; McLayn Musick of Adams County, sixth; Nicole Haverback of Henry/Stark County, seventh; Tucker Marrs of Edgar County, eighth; Bailey Sigrist of Marion County, ninth; and Case Hennenfent of Knox County, tenth.
Christian County ran away with the senior team competition, outscoring the nearest competitor by 65 points. Members of the team included Schafer, Fugate, Tanner Mickey, and Makenna Green.
Knox County took second in the senior team division, followed by Edgar County in third, Morgan County in fourth, and LaSalle County in fifth.
The top three finishers in each species included: Sheep/Goats—Maddie Fugate, first; Tucker Marrs, second, and Jake Bonnsack, third; Swine—Eric Schafer, first; Bailey Sigrist, second; and Nicole Haverback, third; Beef—Clay Sundberg, first; Emma Freebairn, second; and Eric Schafer, third; and Reasons—Maddie Fugate, first; Eric Schafer, second; and Bailey Sigrist, third.
Competition was extremely tight in the junior division with Dellana Muck of Boone County taking first place by one point over Preston Rhode of Livingston/McLean Counties in second and Karly Reel of LaSalle County in third.
Other top 10 finishers included Ethan Emken of Knox County, fourth; Lizzie Schafer of Christian County, fifth; Ty Knodle of Montgomery County, sixth; Hayden Beard of Knox County, seventh; Kennady Gallaher of Brown County, eighth, Morgan Richardson of Boone County, ninth; and Braydon DeCounter of Fulton County, tenth.
Knox County earned a comfortable first place finish in the junior team division. Members of the team included Ethan Emken, Kyle Engel, Anna Webel, and Hayden Beard. Other top teams were Livingston/McLean Counties, second; Christian County, third; Brown County, fourth; and LaSalle County, fifth.
The Illinois 4-H Foundation provides financial support to the youth selected to compete at national 4-H livestock judging contests.