Seven college students, one van, 10,000 miles and too many rumps, quarters and hooves to count — this is what one year on a collegiate livestock team looks like.
“If you had told me that I would be judging livestock a year ago, I would have laughed at you, but now I cannot imagine my life without it,” said Autumn Lankford, a UGA junior studying agricultural communication in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The practice of competitive judging, where students rank a group of animals based on their body condition and traits and develop sound reasoning for their rankings, has a long history at the UGA. A wall in UGA's animal and dairy science (ADS) building is filled with plaques, ribbons and trophies, but no new awards have been added, as the tradition had been on hiatus for the last few years.
This academic year marked a new start for the UGA Livestock Judging Team.
Livestock judging contests involve evaluating classes of livestock, ranking each individual in the group against the others and giving justification for those rankings. Students practice for hours each week to perfect their ability to align livestock classes correctly and prepare to discuss their attributes in a professional and creative manner.
The recent competitive judging season was exactly what the UGA students needed to transform a group of greenhorn livestock evaluators into a collegiate livestock judging team.
“It is exciting to be in a department where a high value is placed on evaluation teams,” said Dylan Davis, ADS graduate student and UGA Livestock Judging Team assistant coach. “Support, understanding and cooperation is needed throughout the department, and we are not short on any of those here in animal and dairy science.”
Being on a livestock evaluation team also introduces students to the inner workings of the livestock industry. Along the way, students pick up skills and connections that will benefit them in their future careers, said Francis Fluharty, head of the UGA Department of Animal and Dairy Science and a livestock judging veteran.
Having been a part of a livestock evaluation team himself in college, Fluharty can attest to the success that is bred out of similar programs.
“For me, the judging part wasn’t important,” Fluharty said. “It was learning to make decisions quickly, verbalize my thoughts and justify my thoughts correctly.”
This year, UGA’s team evaluated hundreds of animals on trips to competitions in Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas, visiting local farms to practice evaluating and ranking the livestock there.
This diligent practice motivated Lankford to sharpen her evaluation techniques and build her work ethic and time management skills.
“The true worth of this experience has shown to be in pushing myself to grow more in my ability to manage time, have confidence and put in the extra hours to be able to perform at the best of my abilities in any activity I take on,” Lankford said.
After a successful season, the team will take a break this summer before competing in six contests this fall, when they will travel to competitions across the east and Midwest, said Sarah Loughridge, coach of the UGA Livestock Judging Team.
“The fall contests are the most competitive competitions our team will see all year, so the bar is going to be set even higher when they return,” Loughridge said. “I have no doubt that these seven judges from all corners of Georgia will rise to the challenge. They will put everything on the line in November when we wrap up at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky.”
For more information about the livestock judging team and how to get involved, contact Loughridge at firstname.lastname@example.org.