Judging steers in the dark

When I was barely a teenager, I joined 4-H and one of my favorite things that I became involved with was livestock judging. For those that don’t know what judging is, it’s a contest where competitors evaluate classes of four animals (beef, sheep, swine) and then give several sets of reasons (basically a speech on why you placed the animals the way you did). Classes are worth 50 points, and deductions are decided upon by the officials. Reasons are worth 50 points as well, and judges score them accordingly.

When I was in high school we had a very dedicated county Extension agent, and he somehow managed to wrangle a dozen kids or more and take us to compete at local contests. From about January until before the county fair, and then in August and September, we spent time on Saturdays at contests and weeknights at judging practice.

Our team became one of the best in the area. In 1994 we placed well enough to represent Kansas at the American Royal at the 4-H judging contest, where we didn’t disappoint. In 1995, the Ford County 4-H livestock judging team won the state contest. This allowed us to compete at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

Judging not only taught me livestock evaluation skills and speaking skills it helped me get a college scholarship to compete on the judging team at Hutchinson Community College. We worked even harder at placing classes of livestock and giving reasons. I still to this day can “work-up” a set of reasons on several classes of livestock. It is that ingrained into my brain.

Last night my husband needed help loading some steers he has been feeding to butcher. It was dark, and I had to step up and pick one since he had two already picked out to go. With four steers in the pen, and me in my Carhartt coat, I was immediately taken back 15 years. I bravely stepped up to get one to move off so I could see how wide he was from behind, and got a better look at how finished he was. I crawled up on the fence to get a better view of their toplines. I hesitated to pick one, remembering all the times where I screwed a class up and lost a lot of points, but eventually I found the one I wanted and we both agreed on it. I was amazed that after all these years I could still place a class of steers.

The 1995 Kansas State Champion Livestock Judging Team. Pictured from left to right, Rylene (Orebaugh) Hessman, Nathan Martin, Candi (Orebaugh) Bailey, Tanner Dowling, Kylene (Orebaugh) Scott and Coach Jerry Dreher.

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