Old skill of livestock judging still used in genomic test era

Duane Dailey

Tradition provides building blocks, the foundation of our future. Tradition ties us to the past, slowing of forward progress.

Ideas hit extremes as the MU animal science department struggles with teaching livestock judging. Our tradition contains award-winning livestock judging teams.

A few years back judging teams were cut. Teams are expensive. They aren’t needed now. Modern livestock evaluation isn’t based on looks. Genetic testing is better. DNA guides animal selection, today.

Ideas divided faculty. But, cuts in budgets weighed more than reasons. The coach and teams went away.

Reactions from former livestock judges were harsh. Upset alums threatened no more gifts.

Bill Lamberson, current director of animal science, opened a search for a faculty member to coach and teach livestock evaluation. Pros and cons arose again.

I favor teaching live animal judging. But I see judging as a small part of livestock farming. Now data guides replacement selection. Genomic testing changed things.

I recall the reluctance of a former animal science faculty member. He didn’t buy into DNA testing. “I want to see if the animal can walk,” he said.

My judging days are long past. It was part of 4-H beef projects. Club project taught showing and judging livestock. Evaluation was a part of animal husbandry in college, long before DNA tests were known.

Today we do both. I see it happen at the MU Show-Me-Select replacement heifer sales. But, some buyers look only at sale catalog data. They don’t bother looking at what they plan to buy.

What you see in the pens out back are body conditions of heifers. Too fat or too thin makes differences in those future cows.

Friday, I listened to the third candidate for the MU coach and teacher. He came from a nearby land-grant university where they still teach judging teams.

He gave a well-reasoned talk on what evaluation should be today. It’s looks and data. Livestock judging must change. It’s looks and genetics.

For a few years, MU had training at Trowbridge Center for 4-H and FFA members from across the state. The teens were given herd scenarios to frame their decision thinking. Then a large group of animals was brought in. These came on loan from nearby livestock farms. The students’ job, pick the top animals to save for breeding stock.

Those events sponsored by MU and Missouri Department of Agriculture went away. The MU faculty leader was gone.

In livestock judging there’s more than ranking placements of four animals, top to bottom. The vital part becomes “giving reasons.” After animals are taken away, each student must tell their judge why they placed the number four animal as No. 1 and on down the line.

First they give their placings. “I rank this class four, two, one, three.” Then they recall and tell why for each animal.

Student judges learn to see and retain those images and then tell in a brief summary their reasons. This takes skill that can be learned. Students learn to reason and speak up.

I’m amazed watching this part. It’s ultra-communications.

Over the years, I saw that some of our best Extension livestock agents were former livestock team members. They reasoned and spoke up. We need more of that especially in political leadership.

Our job seeker pointed out that many people in state leadership in government and commodity groups come from livestock teams.

Judging teaches social skills that last a lifetime. I favor bringing that tradition back. I’ve seen so many former team members make meaningful talks to farmers. They still use their “reasons” skills.

As we left the seminar Friday, a retired faculty member who had heard all candidates noted this one was a former MU judging team member. And, noted he was most articulate in his thought process. I noted he showed excellent, concise, PowerPoint slides.

There is more to judging than livestock. It teaches communications. We need that tradition.

Send your reasons to duanedailey7@gmail.com