Future farmers turn critical eye on livestock at Delaware State Fair

HARRINGTON –– More than 40 Future Famers of America and 4H students filled the Kent Building arena Monday morning, practicing their judging skills during the Livestock Evaluation Career Development event.

The students range from middle to high school ages from all over the state.

The goal of the competition was to try to match placing the animals in the same order as three professional livestock judges.

“We always try to bring in judges with local experience and this year we have three — and they all graduated from local high schools and have lots of experience in agriculture,” said Keith Shane, FFA instructor at Smyrna High School and co-chairman of the event.

Competitors judged six animals including cows, goats and hogs. The judging was completed in 15-minute sessions.

“They’re all probably pretty nervous right now,” said Karen Breeding, Woodbridge High School FFA instructor and co-chairwoman of the competition.

While judging, students could look over the animals. For several they were also allowed to feel the skeletal and muscular structure of the animal.

“I’m a little nervous but I like doing it because it’s a good way to learn more about all the animals we work with,” said Seth Layfield, an eighth-grader from Millsboro Middle.

It’s Seth’s second year judging and he said cows are easiest. He has shown cows in the past so he knows what the judges are looking for.

Between each 15-minute session, the students had to face away from the ring so no one had an early look at the animals to begin judging.

Vanessa Garzon, a student at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School, agreed that cows are the easiest to judge.

“They all look different and each of their attributes are more noticeable, making it easier to place them,” she said.

She’s been a member of FFA for two years, but this was her first time in the judging competition.

“The best part about joining FFA has been meeting all the different people involved,” she said.

The next portion of the competition was a written assessment.

“They can be asked anything about the animals. It can be something like what to look for while judging to questions about nutrition,” Ms. Breeding said. “The goal is to see how much they know about all of the animals.”

After the written test, students headed to the FFA Building. That’s where they explained to the judges their reasoning for the order in which they placed three of the six classes of animals.

“It’s an important part because they get a chance to display their critical thinking, decision making and public speaking skills,” Mr. Shane said. “They also have to use the industry terms and know the judging guidelines.”

Mr. Shane said that many of the students are prepared mainly through animal science courses and FFA or 4H club meetings.

“We try to ensure they develop a well-rounded knowledge of the animals and we are able to do that by bringing in industry professionals to meetings and some of the kids who are really into it do some learning at home,” he said.

“The biggest challenge we face is that kids are involved in so many activities these days that it can be difficult for them to dedicate a lot of time out of school.”

Scores are given based on 50 points for each of the six classes, 50 points for each of the three placing explanations and 50 points for the written test.

Final scores will be available online at judgingcard.com and on the Delaware FFA Facebook page.

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