By Josey S. Koehn
This fall, Louisville, Ky., hosted one of the biggest events for livestock exhibitors – the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE).
NAILE is an all-breed, purebred livestock expo and is also the home of livestock judging contests at 4-H, junior college, and senior college levels. It was the National 4-H Competition that Union County 4-H’ers Brandon Batty, Eli Bowers, Molly Del Curto, and Josey Koehn participated in on Nov. 19.
In order for each of us to even reach this level of livestock judging, there were a number of endeavors we had to be successful in the previous year.
We competed with other judges throughout Union County in the Spring Livestock Judging contest, Eastern Oregon Livestock Show contest, and the Union County Fair contest. In these competitions, we had to place high enough to be in the top four average scorers of the year. The four selected came together to create the Union County 4-H Livestock Judging Team.
After being inducted to the team, we set our sights to the state judging contest for Oregon, held at the Linn County Fairgrounds in July. By only a slight margin, a tie broken by high point Molly Del Curto, our team won the state contest and our title changed from the Union County Judging Team to the Oregon Judging Team.
It was then that we set our sights on nationals.
The Louisville contest, where teams from all the states come together, seemed like a distant goal from the Summer judging season, but our team coach and Cove Livestock Club 4-H leader Tammi Del Curto took the proactive approach and began our workouts.
We evaluated livestock through Wallowa and Union counties and did the same after arriving in the state of Kentucky this November. The days leading up the contest were spent viewing top-notch animals such as Walker Showpigs, Forsee Club Lambs, and livestock of the University of Kentucky Experiment station.
Much of this time was spent working on our “reasons”. Giving reasons is a segment of a livestock judging contest where evaluators give a small structured speech explaining, confidently, why we placed the four animals in the class the way we did. A set of reasons is weighted as heavily as the placing of a class, and preparing for the four sets we would be giving, was a stressful undertaking.
However, it was due to these efforts that we entered the expo center with confidence, as well as the unavoidable nerves.
After being divided into groups and given our instructions, it was time to get down to business. Each group was led through the different classes of animals, sectioned off by hanging curtains and monitored by handlers and officials, giving the contest a prestigious air. Through 11 classes, four sets of reasons, and two quizzes consisting of questions about classes we had previously seen, the national contest came to a close.
The four of us were physically and mentally exhausted. It had been the biggest contest of our careers and the sense of accomplishment was tangible.
An awards banquet was held the next morning to recognize the accomplishments and winners of those in the contest.
Our Oregon Livestock Judging team ended up placing 16th in the nation. Individually, Eli Bowers placed 27th and Brandon Batty came in 50th, both notable successes.
What I’ve learned from the invaluable experience, is that the pursuit of livestock judging is a highly competitive field that will carry over to many aspects of your adult life whether you decide to closely involve yourself with agriculture or not.
The speaking skills, the decision making, and confidence we gain are some of the most useful things to hold in our arsenal in the professional world and I am glad to have the opportunity to develop them in such a unique way. I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who give us young people the opportunity to travel across the country and engage in these experiences. Our coach Tammi Del Curto, chaperones Barry Bowers and Tim Del Curto, Linn Benton Community College livestock judging coach Rick Klampe, Troy Walker of Walker Showpigs, and our parents all played a part in honing our abilities on this trip and allowing us to be there.