Youth development prepares young people to meet the challenges they will face and provides them a means of achieving their full potential. It is promoted through activities and experiences that help youth develop social, ethical, emotional, physical and cognitive competencies. Livestock judging is one key example of an activity that can have a significant contribution to developing these competencies. It has been well documented through studies in Idaho, Indiana, Texas and other states that livestock judging increases animal industry knowledge, self-confidence, decision-making, oral communication, self-motivation, problem-solving and other life skills. Developing this level of youth engagement and education must be the root of all decisions that impact our state’s youth. Providing an experience that is conducive to this level and type of engagement is an important component of the Livestock Judging program at South Dakota State University.
In my role as Livestock Judging Team Coach as SDSU, I brought forth a proposed restructuring of the State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest which I firmly believe will translate to an experience our youth desperately need. On what do I base this belief? This fall will conclude a three-year stretch of livestock judging teams I have had the pleasure of coaching at South Dakota State University. During these years of rebuilding a program we have seen an increase in student GPAs and collegiate involvement and leadership. Furthermore, we have had two, top 10 finishes at the North American Livestock Exposition – the national championship contest. My goals have always been to restructure and strengthen the collegiate judging program, and also to further develop and strengthen our FFA and 4-H judging participants. This spring, the time was right to take the South Dakota youth judging program to a new level by increasing the learning experiences provided through the state contest. One day these current youth participants will feed our program at SDSU, making it even stronger. I have helped with the state contest since I began working at SDSU; however, my responsibilities for coordinating and offering this experience to 4-Hers recently increased.
In recent years the State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest has been held on Friday of Summer Spotlight weekend. It started around 7 A.M. and concluded around noon with a lunch and recognition of the winners. Based on input from families and my observations, the typical conclusion of the event is that many parents and 4-Hers rush back to the busy show schedule that continues until Sunday, while others that made the drive for the contest alone simply turn around and go home.
As part of Summer Spotlight, the contest provides major conveniences of youth not being in school and being at a time and location when many families involved in 4-H livestock are already present. However, there are major structural issues in the contest that, for youth who are truly interested in the livestock evaluation aspects of the contest, cause the contest to be a less than ideal learning experience. Furthermore, those same disadvantages exist to a similar or greater extent for those youth and parents that are sincerely interested in the life skills development of decision-making, communications and many others mentioned above.
As a state, we are very fortunate to have a deep-rooted agricultural heritage as seen through the numerous multi-generation family farms. Many youth from these farms compete in the 4-H contest, and continue on to SDSU. This results in the SDSU Livestock Judging team being made up of 4-year students who have solid livestock evaluation fundamentals from which to start. However, the learning curve to truly develop a young person into a skilled livestock evaluator with excellent decision-making and communication skills, is very steep and the preparation period is short. Ideally, moving our youth further on this learning curve prior to college will allow them to be more competitive at a collegiate level. More importantly, it will also help provide them the self-confidence, self-discipline, motivation, and communication skills they will need to be successful in any career, regardless of whether they continue on to judge at a collegiate level.
The first summer I spent in South Dakota I started a youth judging camp for all ages and saw a total of 28 participants, with a majority of those students being older than 14. The second summer I watched as one camp grew to two, with a total of 60 students in attendance. The age shifted to the majority of campers being under age 14. With that much interest, it was time for the next step to bring our students along even further. The State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest provides an excellent opportunity to enhance youths’ learning experiences. The SDSU Livestock Judging Team and I coordinate seven contests for collegiate and youth judgers, which provides the chance to see works best logistically and what offers the best learning experiences. The State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest has room to improve in both. Of all the contests I work with, the State 4-H contest has the potential to reach and impact the most youth. My goal is to do everything I can to build a stronger desire and love for the livestock industry in a state where there is so much opportunity for long-term impact.
In looking for opportunities to improve the contest, the first concern is the timing with Summer Spotlight. For instance, if youths show hogs at Summer Spotlight and also wants to participate in the State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest, they must arrive a day early in order to judge, but still stay through Sunday to show. In this case, parents would have to take an additional day off work. Another issue is the Summer Spotlight schedule. Youth are there to show their livestock – an incredible experience for growing and developing skills. With that said, showing their livestock projects and efforts is the primary focus of many youth. Showing responsibilities place a major stress on the students and take their focus off the judging contest. To make strong impressions, and to spark a desire to be more competitive, want to learn more and want to choose livestock judging over something else, the participants’ undivided attention is necessary. A judging contest is supposed to be a mentally challenging experience. The understanding gained helps students develop decision-making, critical thinking, and public speaking skills. Because of the Spotlight schedule, many students are simply not focused on the task at hand, and so they don’t perform to the best of their ability. This is unacceptable in my mind. A day and a contest setting devoted to youth focusing on one thing – livestock judging – will do far more to develop both livestock evaluation and life skills in these youth.
Livestock quality and procurement is also a consideration. The South Dakota State Fair takes place in September. That being said, the market livestock in our state are bred to be at an optimal endpoint in September. This means that in July, the market livestock don’t reflect industry standards. The breeding livestock in our state are incredible and are one of my favorite parts about living, teaching, and coaching in South Dakota. With the contest during Summer Spotlight, we have relied on the cattle of the exhibitors for the contest classes. From the outside, this might appear to be a great situation, because without question, the quality of livestock needed is already there. However, we are not able to use the vast majority of this livestock for the contest. Why not? Some cattle don’t come in until the morning of the contest. Many of the best cattle stay in the barns because parents, fitters, and youth don’t allow them to be used for the contest because it adds a lot of extra work, for example they have to have the cattle up and fed by 7 A.M. Furthermore, many are rightfully concerned that standing through three hours of the contest will throw the animals off their best performance. Finally, they want to work on the animals during that time. Also, picking classes from the Spotlight livestock results in a disparity in the class logic and the classes being placeable/sortable for the youth. As it has been organized, the contest requires five cattle classes because youth participants are staged by age. Without detailing all the logistics of the contest, suffice it to say that different groups of students have to judge different classes resulting in variability in type and kind of livestock and difficulty of classes. The change in date and location of the State 4-H Contest will allow livestock to be gathered from local breeders and all youth will judge the same classes. For market livestock, show steers and sheep will be purchased from the State Fair and hogs of the appropriate age and weight will be procured to truly represent the quality of livestock raised in this state. This will also allow classes to be selected to provide the best learning experiences for youth.
From a learning experience, with the contest at Spotlight there is no reasonable way of using the contest to educate our youth. The contest area is also the show ring for Summer Spotlight and must be vacated long before youth are finished with reasons. This means we cannot take youth back to look at and explain the classes. Coaches for county teams and parents also have no opportunity to use the classes for added teaching moments. Without question, we are talking about a state contest and there is a part of it about competition and winning. However, it is also about learning. Youth have no way of learning from their mistake(s) or studying the class logic so when presented with similar situations in the future, they are able to get it right. 4-H, FFA, sports and other youth activities exist to develop and improve skills. That is not possible with the current schedule of the contest at Spotlight. Although State Fair has been offered as an option by some, the same issues would exist, and at an even greater magnitude. For those who have multiple children and/or multiple species showing, there is no good time in the 5-day schedule to allow for the State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest.
Taking all of this into consideration, I proposed a movement of the contest to the start of the fall season on the campus of SDSU. I knew with the contest location further east, away from our youths west of the river, travel would present some challenges. I also fully recognized that the timing with fall sports is less than ideal. And, I understand it will be a difficult adjustment for some parents and youth at first. However, I am confident we can offer an opportunity for 4-Hers to be a part of something they are proud of and which inspires them to want to do more for their own growth as livestock judgers. I grew up the son of an agriculture teacher. I had the opportunity to judge on a state winning livestock team and spend a year advocating for youth in agriculture as a State FFA Officer. I have always wanted to impact youth for the better and see the enjoyment of their accomplishments when success is met. We live in a time where animal agriculture is highly scrutinized and the next generation is going to face a tougher time than we already do. It’s my hope the 4-H membership and development of these youth will be strengthened by this change.
We will offer an excellent quality contest combined with exposing our youths to campus and the faculty that will hopefully teach them one day. We plan to offer campus tours for family members that travel, as well as for the different age groups competing in the contest. We hope to truly promote and highlight participation in the contest and the accomplishment of winning the State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest so more students will strive to learn and want to compete at a higher level. I am asking for your support and promising an experience your child will want to be a part of. It’s an exciting time to be a Jackrabbit; I hope you’ll want to be a part of it!
- McCann, J. S., & M.A. McCann (1992). Judging team members reflection on the value of livestock, horse, meats, and wool judging programs. Professional Animal Scientist, 8(3), 7.
- Nash, S.A. and L.L. Sant. (2005) Life skill development found in 4-H animal judging. Journal of Extension, 43(2).
- Rusk, C.P., C.A. Martin, B.A. Talbert, and M.A. Balschweid (2002). Attributes of Indiana’s 4-H livestock judging program. Journal of Extension, 40(2).