Judging contests teach ag lessons

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The American Royal’s purpose is to serve youth, education and agrarian values.

Few events support that mission as much as the American Royal’s judging competitions, which puts all three core ideals into place.

Brant Laue
Brant Laue

“You can really think about judging competitions as the incubators for the leaders of tomorrow in the livestock industry,” said Brant Laue, chairman of the American Royal. “As a competitor, you are matching your wits against the professional.”

Competitors will rank the animals or products in order, which will be compared to the professionals’ decisions on the same items. Once that process is done, those judging will then provide oral reasons, which also will be scored by competition officials.

“You will give an oral defense of why you placed the animals in the order you did,” Laue said. “When that was brought into the competition, it added a new dimension to it.”

The reasons allow youngsters to develop, then enhance, their persuasive communication. While highly competitive, the judging experience allows for tremendous learning.

“When we teach kids how to evaluate livestock, what the important characteristics are and what the unimportant characteristics are, then we are teaching kids some critical steps they can carry with them,” said Cody Sloan, a Miami County (Kan.) Extension Agent who is organizing the FFA and 4-H livestock judging competitions.

“We are teaching kids about the meat animal industry and meat animal production. There are a lot of other reasons we have livestock judging contests. The experiences are second to none, and they develop decision-making skills.”

Everything that occurs in competition can easily translate into real-life circumstances.

“If you were to look at the history of the American Royal, the teams that have been here and the people that have gone on to leadership positions in the agriculture industry, it is quite impressive,” Laue said. “It is a core event of the American Royal. It is very much in line with our mission.”

There are six judging divisions, most of which are livestock judging – 4-H, FFA, junior college and intercollegiate; there also is a meat judging and a crops contest.

Ultimately, the judging ties in well with the livestock shows that are such a valuable piece of the puzzle for the Royal.

“Livestock judging is 100 percent opinion, which makes it fun,” Sloan said. “We teach kids to make sound decisions and ultimately defend those decisions. They have to sit down and justify why they did what they did. It teaches them so much.

“Plus it provides them with leadership activities and networking.”

Sloan should know. This is his first year as an official at the American Royal, but he’s been around the complex in the West Bottoms for years as a contestant.

“The thing I’m most thankful for with the judging was probably the networking, but you can’t take away the fact that we’re teaching what good heifers and good bulls look like,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done with my life since 2005, when I graduated high school. I’ve spent much of my life for livestock judging. I’m still in the middle of things.”

Whether it’s as an extension agent or as an organizer, Sloan knows just how important it is to compete at the American Royal, which contributes more than $1 million to youth and education each year.

“The American Royal is a highly reputable contest,” he said. “It’s one you go there with the intent to win. There is prestige and history behind the contest. That’s the neat thing.”


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