Animal judging – What’s it all about?

This series of articles will introduce animal judging – what it is, the life skills it helps youth to develop, where it can take youth and why everyone should try it!

At your local fair, in your 4-H club or at a state-wide events like Michigan 4-H Youth Dairy Days there are often judging contests for youth to participate in. Contests are available for most species, including dairy cattle, livestock and horses. Judging contests are often serious business for the youth who are in friendly competition with club members and perhaps even peers from across Michigan. For most project areas, there are national contests youth are eligible to compete in if they perform well at a state contest.

From the outside, judging animals may look like an easy task. Judging is so much more than just the fifteen or so minutes youth have to evaluate the animals. It takes a great deal of time spent practicing and studying before stepping into the judging arena to understand and know what ranks one animal over another and how certain traits translate into a productive, healthy and structurally sound animal. This helps youth to better understand physiology and animal selection for their own 4-H projects.

Time management is an important life skill acquired because there is a limit to how long youth have to evaluate one group of animals. They must use the resources of time, observation and evaluation efficiently to make their final decisions. Critical thinking skills are necessary for determining the placing, especially if animals in the class have very similar traits; a ranking must still be made. Additionally, decision making skills are strengthen because there cannot be a tie; there will be the best and the worst in the class. All of these are important life skills that are part of the Targeting Life Skill Wheel (TLS), part of the Michigan State University Extension 4-H curriculum.

As youth gain more experience in judging, another component is added: oral reasons. Oral reasons give young people the opportunity to explain to an experienced judge exactly why they ranked the animals in a particular way. While presenting oral reasons, the strengths of each individual animal are pointed out to justify the ranking. Additionally, youth must organize their thoughts in a clear, logical manner to convince the judge their placing is correct. Oral reasons provide an opportunity to improve communication and public speaking skills, as well as build self-esteem and confidence.

In practicing for contests, youth build social skills by working with club members, discussing placings, reasons and appropriate phrasing for the species they are judging. It takes teamwork and cooperation from everyone – youth, coaches and other adults – to learn and prepare for a contest. Animal judging, no matter the species, takes a lot of dedication, hard work and time, but is an amazing learning and growing experience for all involved.

Next in the series will be an interview with the each of the coaches from the MSU Animal Science collegiate judging teams to learn more about the specifics of judging each species, the benefits of judging and why every 4-H member should give it a try! Be sure to read more about each of their specialties, including animal welfare judging and assessment, horse judging, dairy judging and livestock judging.

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