Collegiate Livestock Judging Team members reflect on year | TSLN.com

Collegiate Livestock Judging Team members reflect on year

Each year, as stock show season gets underway, so do livestock judging contests. From the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) to the American Royal, collegiate judging teams travel the country evaluating livestock and presenting reasons.

"It's a big time commitment," said Jefferson Keller, interim livestock judging coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). "These young people are dedicating nearly 30 hours each week practicing reasons, traveling to ranches to look at stock and preparing for these contests. Being a member of a judging team highlights these students' dedication and determination, and ultimately, wherever life takes them, these young people will utilize the skills learned in livestock judging throughout their careers."

These skills include a hard work ethic, critical thinking skills, communicating professionally, speaking concisely and effectively, networking, decision making, working together and so much more.

"Regardless of if you win or lose or where you participate, livestock judging as a whole is an incredibly valuable experience no matter where life takes these kids," said Keller, who hails from St. Paul, Neb. "Developing these young people and making them the best versions of themselves is really our goal with this program. After 18 months of working with these students, it's amazing to see the progression of the kids from the first day of class to the final contest in November."

The season officially ended for the 2018 team last November. The team consisted entirely of Nebraska college students, including Emilye Vales, DeWitt; Hunter Schroeder, West Point; Wayde Rodehorst, Columbus; Katie Nolles, Bassett; Eleanor Aufdenkamp, North Platte; and Emmet Caldwell, Edgar.

Highlights for the team include Emmet Caldwell receiving fifth in placings at the Houston Livestock Show; Emilye Vales earning second overall at the American Royal; Hunter Schroeder winning second overall at the North American College of Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) competition; and the team placed second overall at NACTA, respectively.

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More than winning, Keller said the real value of collegiate livestock judging is seeing the friendships develop on the team.

"It's exciting to be part of a judging team," he said. "You spend so much time together in a van traveling that you really become a family."

"My favorite part of judging is getting to travel the country with some of the best teammates I could ask for and see some of the nation's best livestock while also connecting with producers," added Vales, who is studying agricultural education and is currently student teaching with plans to graduate in May 2019. "Judging has given me so many opportunities and I couldn't be more thankful for the people who have helped me reach my goals throughout my judging career."

Schroeder, who is studying animal science and looking for a job in the meats industry this spring, echoed that sentiment and said, "To get the opportunity to travel the country with a group of coaches and teammates who are absolutely second to none who share my passion for livestock is incredible. And to top it off, we get the chance to sort some of the best livestock in the country while making unforgettable memories and having countless laughs with one another. It's hard to beat that!"

Yet, all good things must come to an end, and as the team concluded their judging careers at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Rodehorst, an animal science student with his eyes set on graduate school, said, "I really enjoy all the memories we've made as a team and all the laughs we've shared. It's been a really cool experience to see notable livestock operations. I'm bummed that it's coming to an end and I won't get to spend endless hours with my favorite people."

Meanwhile, Nolles, an agricultural education student with plans to teach and return to her family's cattle ranch, said of the experience, she values, "learning more about the industry that built me while making memories and relationships that will last a lifetime."

Collectively, the team seemed to all agree that sorting high quality livestock while making valuable connections were truly the best parts of the collegiate judging program.

Aufdenkamp, an agricultural education major who has secured a job with Corteva Agrisciences after she graduates this spring, said, "Judging has given me some amazing opportunities — the connections and memories made, along with the lesson learned and places visited have made it all worth while. But its really the lifelong friends, and supporters I have gained through my teammates and coaches that I will forever cherish."

And Caldwell, who is studying animal science and plans to graduate and pursue a caeer in the meat industry, said, "My favorite part of judging was getting to see tremendous livestock all across the country and making memories that will last forever with my team."

"These young people are some of the industry's best and brightest," said Keller, who competed on the 2016 UNL team and is currently working on his masters of animal science in Lincoln. "And outside of the life skills they develop through livestock judging, the biggest benefit is getting to talk to premier livestock producers across the country. The team has the opportunity to travel to evaluate livestock at these operations, and in turn, they bring back ideas and strategies that they might be able to implement in their family operations or in the future ranches they plan to start once they graduate. It's really an amazing opportunity to grow and evolve and learn from the best in the industry."

Looking ahead to the future, the 2019 team has been working hard at practice and has tested their skills at a few competitions this year. The new team includes Keeley Russman of Wisner, Neb.; Lexi Kaiser of Eagle Point, Ore.; Sydney Williams of Wisner, Neb.; Jeremy Henkel of Campbell, Neb.; and Sophia Lentfer of Firth, Neb.

"We have a small team this year of just five students, but they are a great group who are working hard at practice to achieve their goals," said Keller. "In the contests we have traveled to so far this year, Russman earned an eighth high individual placing in sheep and goats at NWSS. Kaiser was top ten in all species at the Sioux Empire Livestock Show in Sioux Falls, S.D. And the team placed fifth in sheep and goats at the Sioux Empire, as well."

Keller said he isn't hoping for a home run win here and there; instead, he wants his teams to focus on consistency in placings.

"My philosophy is if we can stack all five team members in the 15-30th place range, we will be in the hunt every time," he said. "It's way more important to be consistent, and yes, this is an individual sport, but our goal is to do well as a team."

The 2019 team will keep busy in the upcoming months, putting in the hours of practice, so they can individually sort, evaluate and justify their placings in oral reasons with confidence and conviction.