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Ready, Set, Judge

Ready, Set, Judge

By: Haley Stark

There is no feeling that compares to the moment you turn around and face a class of four. You scrutinize each up and down and evaluate the good and the bad. You pace back and forth and frantically scribble down on that steno page. You decide on your placing, develop your reasoning and prepare yourself to defend your placings in the reasons room. It comes down to all the preparation and hard work you’ve invested. Whether you bust a class or come off the floor clean, this is the world of livestock evaluation.

For many hog enthusiasts like myself, the World Pork Expo is one of the most exciting events of the summer. Between walking tacos, endless pork meals, quality hogs and numerous youth member activities, there’s something for everyone at World Pork Expo, including a livestock judging contest. If you’re new to the world of livestock evaluation, or just looking for a quick refresher before diving into WPX it’s essential to look at the basics, establish a confident contest-day mentality and most importantly- have fun!

Establish the priorities

 With some of the highest quality hogs in the country showing up at WPX, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you first turn around and look at a class. In order to combat this, commit yourself to the basics and don’t stray from your priorities.

First, ask yourself are these breeding gilts or market hogs? Breeding gilts are created for the purpose of reproducing and thriving in the gestation stall for an extended period of time. This means those traits associated with longevity are the most important and boils down to one word, functionality. When judging a breeding gilt class, functionality has two parts- skeletal build and rib shape.  The ideal breeding gilt not only has to be mobile and have enough flexibility built into either end of her skeleton, but she also needs to have a bold and convex shape to her rib.

Jump to the other side of the spectrum, and if you’re judging market hogs, these are animals whose sole purpose is to be harvested and utilized as food. This means muscle, growth and leanness is the most important. When evaluating muscle, you want a market hog to have a wide base as this lays the foundation for total volume of muscle. Next you want a shapely top that is signified by a groove down their top and a defined “butterfly shape.” Lastly, you want an appropriate amount of expression and dimension through the ham region. Because hogs are marketed on a lean value grid, not having too much fat must also be a priority. This being said, a lean hog will view trim through the lower portions of their body like their jowl, middle and seam of the ham.

Once you have the basics, functionality for gilts and muscle for market hogs you can add what I like to call the “extras” and let your hog-kid preferences shine through.  Now you can add in factors like balance, hair and skin quality and stoutness of feature to the equation- the things show kids really want to tie into. Now, there’s no doubt that every show exhibitor has their own opinion as to what the “ideal” show barrow or show gilt may look like, but it’s imperative to keep personal bias out of your mind when you’re judging a class. Just stick to the basics and keep it simple!

Tackling Contest Day

 As an experienced livestock evaluator, I can promise that every contest is different and will certainly present some challenges. You can always count on some simple clear-cut classes, but there can also be some more difficult classes that take more time to dig in and understand. Although nothing prepares you for a contest quite like practice and just getting the experience under your belt, there are a few keys to how you approach a contest.

 Find the logic. Every class was put together for a purpose and was designed around some logic. Finding “the must” or a starting point is key. Does the class split into pairs? Is there an easy winner or loser? This mentality will help you with any class, even challenging ones!

 Stay calm. Nerves are the fastest way to bust a class. Trust me, I’ve been there. The class is crazy hard, you’re not sure what to do and time is ticking. It’s easy to get worked up, panic and decide on an impulsive placing. Unfortunately, nerves usually hurt more than they help in a contest. If you get overwhelmed, take 10 seconds, breathe, turn around and clear your head. Then face the class again and go with the first thing that hits you.

 Trust your gut. To me, this is the most important advice my coaches ever gave me. Nine out of 10 times your first impression will always be right. Switching a pair last minute or second guessing yourself will sooner get you in a bind than get you a 50.

 Take notes. This one is pretty simple. Regardless of how great your memory is, it’s essential to take (legible) notes. Don’t forget IDs like color markings.

 Memorize the stock. Although notes are great, don’t get so frantic and consumed in taking notes that you forget to really look at each hog. For example, spend the first one to two minutes of the class just looking and absorbing each animal. This will help you remember the classes later when you’re working up sets.

 Maintain a focused attitude. Let’s face it; livestock judging is a mental sport. You go hours without talking to anyone but yourself and have to put together multiple sets of reasons. Even when you get tired or bored, stay focused and power through.

Going the extra mile

Ask any past judge what their favorite part of livestock judging is and I’m sure they’ll respond with something similar to what I said just a few weeks ago- the memories, the experiences, the connections. As great as being successful is, as great as winning a contest or hearing your name called out is, those things are so small compared to the impact livestock judging leaves on your life. Truth is, livestock judging gives you skills you can utilize throughout your life in any situation. You’ll learn how to make decisions, have conviction and work well under pressure, as well as key public speaking skills.

The miles you’ll travel looking at livestock will show you some of the most gorgeous areas of the country. The people you’ll compete with will turn into lifelong friends and the breeders and industry professionals you’ll meet will build an intricate network. The benefits of livestock judging are endless, so this summer at WPX or any other contest you may compete it don’t forget to take it all in, enjoy and most importantly- have fun. Now ready, set, judge!

2018 Livestock Judging Camps and Clinics

Blinn College

Butler Community College

Casper College

Connors State College

Iowa State University

Kansas State University


Oklahoma State University

Redlands Community College

South Dakota State University

South Plains College

Texas A&M University

Texas Tech University

University of Nebraska

University of Tennessee

University of Wyoming

Virginia Tech

About the Blogger

Haley Stark is a Florida native who currently serves on the NJSA Junior Board of Directors. Haley has several years of experience under her belt in the livestock judging field. In 2017, she graduated from Butler Community College, Kansas, where she was a member of a National Champion Livestock Judging Team. She is currently a junior at Oklahoma State University and a member of the livestock judging team.

2015-2017 Butler Community College Livestock Judging Team

2018 Oklahoma State University Livestock Judging Team

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