Teen 4-H Livestock Judges Win U.S., Head to Scotland

Feb 19, 2015

We all kind of know what physical characteristics makes people look fit and healthy.

But most of us would have no idea how to make that same judgment about a pig. The four high-schoolers on the championship-winning Rockingham County 4-H Livestock Judging Team are getting ready to compete in Scotland this summer - and developing all sorts of valuable life skills along the way.  WMRA’s Andrew Jenner has a round-up.

[Caley Ellington gives a set of “reasons” – justifying her ranking of a class of market hogs]

Pulled-apart blade? Chest floor? Stouter-topped? Let’s slow down a little bit.

CALEY ELLINGTON:  My name is Caley Ellington. I’m 17 years old and I go to Broadway High School.

She’s a member of the Rockingham County 4-H Livestock Judging Team, and you just heard her practicing a set of “reasons.” That’s a defense of the way she ranked a hypothetical group of market hogs. Here’s some explanation of the intense vocabulary of competitive livestock judging:

ELLINGTON: A gilt is a female hog. And then a barrow is a castrated male hog.

In a market class, you’re basically looking for the ones that will end up giving you the best cuts of meat.

ELLINGTON: So I said the ‘wider-bladed, stouter-topped’ gilt. Their ‘blade’ is their shoulder. You want ‘em wider down their top so that would mean they have more meat. And stouter-topped gilt is just more muscle expression down her top. Just like in people, if someone’s really muscular, you can see kind of the shape in their back. It’s pretty much the same thing only in hogs. You just have to learn to pick out the good traits versus the bad traits.

That’s something Ellington and the three others on the county livestock judging team have gotten very, very good at doing. Last month, they took first place at the Western National Roundup in Denver.

ELLINGTON: That was a huge highlight of my judging career. I’ve heard about Denver my whole life, and to actually get out there and get to judge good livestock and then win was an amazing experience.

It’s one of the biggest contests in the country, so winning it is a major accomplishment of its own. It also means that in June, the team will go to Scotland to compete at the International Livestock Judging Tour.

Big judging competitions involve four kinds of animals – cattle, sheep, pigs and goats – further broken down into market and breeding classes. Each one has its own set of criteria to evaluate. And It can take years to get a feel for the nuances that separate one cow from the next.

BAILEY CARPENTER: I like judging goats.

MAKAYLA NESSELRODT: My strength in judging would have to be cattle. I was raised on a beef cattle farm, so just being around beef cattle my whole life has helped me gain knowledge of what to look for in a market class or in a breeding class or vice-versa.

HANNAH CRAUN: Oh gosh, my favorite? I don’t know … I like to judge pigs.

Those were team members Bailey Carpenter, MaKayla Nesselrodt and Hannah Craun, whose different strong suits are part of their overall team success.

NESSELRODT: When we come together and all our scores come together, and somebody had a bad day in one place, another person can pick up their bad day. So definitely working as a team and having different backgrounds definitely makes us stronger as a team together.

Coaches Dave Walker and Tammy Craun – that’s Hannah’s mother – have been leading the team together for about 25 years. Before that, Walker and Craun were livestock judging teammates at Virginia Tech. And before that, they competed together on this very same Rockingham County 4-H team. Craun called the win in Denver the biggest one the team has ever scored.

TAMMY CRAUN: We were just really excited and really proud of the kids. They’ve been practicing every week since August.

They’ll be practicing a lot more until they leave for Scotland. They’ll also be working hard to raise money for the trip from civic groups, agribusiness and others. Both aspects of that preparation, the coaches say, helps turn members of today’s livestock judging team into tomorrow’s leaders of Rockingham County’s biggest industry: farming. Here’s Nesselrodt again:

NESSELRODT: Livestock judging definitely teaches us life skills that we’ll always use. It teaches us decision-making. It teaches us great public speaking by giving oral reasons, saying why we placed the class the way we did. It definitely gives us life skills that we’ll use for the rest of our lives.

[OUT – Ellington’s reasons]