For many 4-H and FFA youth, livestock judging can be intimidating. It forces youth to broaden their knowledge of all species found within a competition. If the unfamiliarity of species doesn’t make youth nervous, oral reasons do. Oral reasons can be nerve-wracking. It’s stressful to explain something (that may be incorrect) to a judge who is knowledgeable on the topic. Luckily, there are ways to practice and become more familiar with livestock judging. And, we can integrate this practice into everyday farm life.
Tip #1: Judge Your Own Stock
We often forget the best practice tool is right out the back door. Next time you are with your animals, judge them by making a list of their strengths and faults. Then, develop a set of oral reasons explaining the strengths and what you would like to see different. When you feel confident with one animal, start comparing them to the others that you have. This will help build your vocabulary and improve your ability to evaluate livestock.
This practice will also help eliminate bias within your judging. Bias can be built on former placings, who shows the animal, or the opinions of other people. We are often biased about our own animals. We may ignore flaws that we may point out more readily on an animal that we don’t own or show. By critically judging your own stock, you become more capable of ignoring bias.
Tip #2: Just Talk
Oral reasons are the most common cause for youth to leave livestock judging. Telling a judge what you believe about a class can be hard, especially when the right answer is a mystery. Even practice can be intimidating. We often turn to traditional practice to improve. We judge a class and give a formulated set of reasons. This method helps with our ability to spit out a set of oral reasons. But many times the reasons we formulated for the class can get jumbled in our mess of nerves.
To solve this problem, sit down and have a discussion with yourself about the animals you see. While talking, try to integrate some of your terminology and include the points you would in an orals set. Leave out the format of the real speech. This minimizes the intimidating parts of oral reasons. You build your terminology and become more confident in the way you talk about livestock. You will come across as a knowledgeable and confident judge in a competition.
Tip #3: Judge Everything
This one may seem silly but bear with me because it works. Obviously, judging is stressful. The goal of practicing is to make it less stressful. But, practicing on livestock can be tough when every species isn’t readily available. Instead of putting your practice on hold, judge other things. It doesn’t matter what it is, grab four of anything. Judge them and put together a set of reasons. Doing laundry. Judge four pairs of socks. Doing chores. Judge bags of feed. This helps you build a judging rhythm. This helps you set a guideline for how you want to judge. You can look at the whole class, look one-by-one, look at pairs, and look back at the whole class for variations. It will also give you the opportunity to set a reasons template in your brain.
Listen to an experienced livestock judge. You will notice that almost all their reasons are the same. The terminology and placings change based on the class and species, but they stick to a script.
By judging anything and everything, you can develop these habits. Create an oral reasons template. You can easily present a set of reasons for every topic class.
Livestock judging is tough. Even experienced judges still get nervous before oral reasons. They will question their class placings a million times. But, by following these tips, the stress of the competition can be minimized. Just remember to always keep practicing and to never give up.
Check out our article “Words of Wisdom from the Livestock Judging Van” for the life lessons learned from livestock judging.
Want more livestock judging tips? Check out “Livestock Judging Techniques” presented by the University of Missouri Extension.
Do you have a livestock judging practice tip? We would love for you to share in the comments below.