Rebooting Livestock Judging

(From left to right) Caleb Ashley, a biochemistry major; Bain Wilson, coach; Jake Tabor, an agribusiness major; and Dottie Long, an animal and poultry sciences major.

For decades, livestock evaluation and judging have been staple courses in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, and over the years Virginia Tech fielded livestock judging teams to complete in intercollegiate contests across the country. Due to declining interest, however, Virginia Tech has not had a livestock judging team for several years.

Bain Wilson is looking to change that.

Wilson, a youth livestock educator, joined Virginia Tech in 2015 and began working with 4-H and FFA youth livestock judging programs to build additional interest and support for the program.

Last summer the animal and poultry sciences department offered a three-day, two-night livestock judging camp. More than 40 kids ages 13 to 18 participated, and Wilson looks forward to offering it again this summer.

One of Wilson’s goals is to show high school students the opportunities they have at Virginia Tech to compete on a livestock judging team. “I want to show them that if they decide to come here to Virginia Tech to school, livestock judging will be an option,” said Wilson.

At the college level, Wilson has taken the lead role in teaching the livestock evaluation and judging courses. He had one student compete in the national contest last fall, and three students took the intermediate livestock evaluation course and competed in a couple of contests this spring. Those students will continue next fall in the advanced livestock judging course and will compete in several contests.

Participation on the judging team is not limited to animal and poultry science majors. “I’m an ag business major, so I haven’t taken any classes in APSC,” said Jake Tabor, one of the students on the team this spring. “In just a few short months, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about sheep, swine, and cattle. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about every aspect of an animal’s skeleton, from muzzle to tail head.”

Most collegiate livestock judging contests require contestants to place 12 classes of livestock and defend the placings of eight of those classes with oral reasons, but livestock judging provides opportunities beyond the placings.

According to Wilson, team members are able to visit state and nationally prominent livestock operations and to form lasting connections within the livestock industry. Livestock judging helps develop critical decision-making and communication skills that build confidence and leadership, often translating to career success.

Wilson, who was a member of the Kansas State University judging team, knows firsthand the value of being involved on a judging team. “Judging pushes the boundaries of your comfort level, especially when it comes to giving reasons and defending your decisions. Giving a 45-minute talk in graduate school came easy after all those sets of reasons.”

It will take time to rebuild interest in the team, but with the renewed commitment from the college and the animal and poultry sciences department, Wilson is up to the challenge and looks forward to working with students to create a successful program.