By: Mollie Lastovica
We have all heard of basketball, baseball and football teams, but two students in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications are members of an intercollegiate team you might be less familiar with. Everleigh Hayes, senior agricultural leadership and development major and Katie Eslick, junior agricultural science student are members of the Texas A&M Livestock Judging Team.
“Livestock judging is the evaluation of animals based upon industry trends and concerns,” Eslick said.
The team of 12 juniors and seniors including Hayes and Eslick has been practicing together since August. At contests, which started in January and will run until November, the team members evaluate and rank a number of classes containing four animals each. For half of those classes, they are required to justify their placing by talking a set of oral reasons to livestock industry professionals.
The team practices two to three times per week by traveling to different livestock operations across the state and nation to evaluate livestock and by preparing and rehearsing many sets of reasons. The livestock they evaluate include beef cattle, meat goats, sheep and swine.
“Livestock judging is more than ranking four animals in a class, it is about comparing those four animals to the industry as a whole and determining whether they are good or bad according to industry standards,” Hayes said. “It teaches people to trust in themselves and build confidence in themselves and their judging abilities.”
Judging contestants compete both individually and as a team of five. The Texas A&M Livestock Judging Team has won two of the four Spring contests they have competed in, including the Ft. Worth Livestock Judging Contest and the San Antonio Livestock Judging Contest. They competed in Houston on March 11 and will return in the fall for contests in Tulsa, Dallas, Kansas City and Louisville along with a number of smaller contests throughout the semester.
“Judging can be a huge time commitment working up to a contest, but all of our travels and practicing have paid off thus far,” Hayes said.
Hayes has been involved in livestock judging since she was 10 years old.
“I grew a passion for the livestock industry as soon as I began raising my first pig in the third grade,” Hayes said. “I attended Blinn College on the judging team and absolutely loved it and having decided a long time ago how much I wanted to become an Aggie, I quickly made my decision to join the Aggie tradition and come to Texas A&M.”
Growing up in California, Eslick’s decision to become involved in livestock judging was less common.
“I joined because of the success of previous teams, but I continued judging because I love the livestock industry and it allowed me to meet and learn from influential producers,” Eslick said. “Something I should point out is that judging in 4-H is not popular in California and at the majority of schools, you can’t join FFA until you are in high school.”
While the majority of their teammates are animal science majors, Hayes and Eslick are both confident in their decision to major within the ALEC department.
“I truly enjoy the leadership and public speaking side of livestock judging so much that I decided to enter the ALED program here to develop myself into a leader even more and hopefully gain the ability to pass on my knowledge and wisdom to future generations,” Hayes said. “I am the kind of person who would much rather give a presentation or teach a class about something I know rather than memorize information for exams and my major gives me the chance to do that.”
For Eslick, a passion for education led her to the agricultural science degree.
“While I love the livestock industry, I felt my passion was in educating the consumer about the agriculture industry and I feel my background only helps to better understand and communicate the producers’ needs,” Eslick said.
Texas A&M University has a deeply rooted history with livestock judging and has had a judging team since 1904. The university has 11 National Championships, determined every year at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville.
While participating on the judging team is a major time commitment, current and former team members agree that the commitment is worthwhile.
“I think livestock judging at this level really forces you to set your priorities and become better at managing your time,” Eslick said. “I feel that this team will not only help me in becoming a true livestock evaluator that can comfortably place and choose animals, but it is also helpful with my confidence and decision making skills.”
Hayes agrees that the leadership and life skills acquired through livestock judging will be invaluable after graduation.
“Livestock judgers are truly the future leaders of the agricultural industry because we all feature a passion for agriculture and livestock,” Hayes said. “Many of us, including myself, come from an agricultural-based background and have been able to see the impact agriculture has on everyone and everything. We are willing to teach others and support the industry in every way possible.”