High school students judge livestock in 83rd annual FFA competition

Thursday, April 14, 2011 | 9:29 p.m. CDT
FFA students judge different classifications of animals and are scored accordingly at the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention on Thursday at the Trowbridge Livestock Center. Class 9 was keep/cull gilts and involved ranking the pigs on multiple criteria.

COLUMBIA — The red clipboard held two white worksheets covered in graphs and a large yellow steno pad. Next to it on the table lay two sharpened pencils.

The room was tense. Soon, hundreds of students from high schools all over the state would scratch away at the worksheets, vying to be the best livestock, horse, or poultry judge at the FFA state competition.

Nearby, Cuba High School sophomore Shayla Mitchell sat next to her sister, senior Samantha Mitchell. The girls talked about judging the different livestock animals and trying to keep their wits about them.

“I’m nervous," Shayla said. "States is a big deal."

Thursday and Friday, Columbia plays host to the 83rd Annual Missouri FFA — formerly Future Farmers of America — Convention. The schedule is exhausted with events including talent shows, meat and animal judging and guest speakers.

Princeton High School junior Jacob Pollard has been to the FFA convention the past two years and takes it very seriously. He placed ninth in the livestock-judging event.

“They say there’s two things you don’t mess with at our school: football and FFA,” he said.

Judging livestock at Trowbrige Livestock Center

As part of the livestock-judging event, Shayla was required to judge an animal based on its muscle, structure, genetics and fat.

The smell of manure inside the livestock center was suffocating, to the point it could be tasted. Shayla, though, who lives on a farm with 30 horses and about 120 cattle, doesn’t even notice the smell.

Students wandered around cows, goats, pigs, lambs and sheep throughout the day, watching intently and making sure they correctly surveyed the animal. When judging the goats, each student was given 10 seconds to handle the animal.

Shayla said judging the sheep would be hardest for her. “I don’t know anything about sheep,” she said.

After the students were finished writing down their scores for each animal, they had to defend their decisions in a formal speech without notes.

Aurora High School took first place in the event, Princeton took second and Russellville High School took third.

Judging horses at the Stephens College stables

After the horse-judging event, four girls from Malta Bend High School waited for their bus in front of the stables. The girls wore matching bright purple button-down shirts, brown belts and brown cowboy boots.

They had been preparing all year for this event. The group earned a No. 1 rank coming into the competition after winning first place at districts. In order to keep up their game, they practiced at various contests, took exams online and visited local horse breeders to understand the reasoning behind giving horses certain scores.

But all their hard work doesn’t guarantee anything. Princeton High School took first place and Malta Bend took fourth.

“We always underestimate ourselves, but then we do pretty good,” said Bristol Rigby, a senior in the group. 

“Hopefully if we think we did bad, we’ll come out on top,” junior friend, teammate and eighth-place winner Dawn Gorrell replied.

“Hopefully the judges had mercy on us today," Rigby said, laughing. "We were all a little nervous because it’s states.”

Another competitor, Ashley Holt, a junior at Ozark High School, said she had never been asked many of the questions on the 50-question exam about horse anatomy and health.

“My teacher told us that if it was hard for us, it was hard for everyone, since we made it through districts pretty easily,” she said.

After the exam, students judged horses based on their performance in two types of patterns the horses had to follow. The students, like those in the livestock-judging event, had to give their reasons for the scores they gave in a formal speech.

“It’s intense," said Kristy Tiesing, the event's student superintendent. "They are all pretty into it. Honestly, Missouri takes FFA to a different level than most states do.”

Holt said she wasn’t too worried about giving her reasons, even though she wasn’t prepared for one of the patterns the horses used in performance. “I’m normally pretty good at giving reasons. I just got up there and did what I had to do,” Holt said.

Jessie Gorrell, a freshman at Malta Bend High School, said her heart was pounding and that she had butterflies and was shaking. “It’s aging me,” she said, laughing.

Poultry judging at Hearne’s Center Field House

The poultry-judging event was silent.

Behind closed curtains with signs telling people to keep quiet, students took a test over various poultry subjects.

After the test, students judged plucked chickens without heads or feet hanging from racks, chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, patties, wings and other processed poultry. Eight live chickens were caged in the back for students to survey as well. Behind another set of curtains, students defended the scores they gave.

East Newton (Granby) High School took first place. Paris High School won second and Wheaton took third. 

Friday, students will participate in public speaking, forestry and a number of other events. Click here for the full schedule.

Angus heifers await the next round of FFA students who will score the cattle and, in turn, the students are judged. FFA students from across Missouri will be in Columbia on Thursday and Friday as part of the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention.
FFA students score Angus heifers and market hogs in the judging competition of the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention on Thursday at the Trowbridge Livestock Center. Students were given 12 minutes per category of animals to inspect and score the livestock.
One of the four market goats that FFA students scored on multiple criteria in the judging competition of the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention on Thursday. High school students from around Missouri will be in Columbia on Thursday and Friday for the FFA convention.
Students stand with their backs to the market sheep until given permission to inspect them as part of the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention on Thursday at the Trowbridge Livestock Center on MU Campus. Each section of FFA students was given 12 minutes to inspect the different groupings of livestock that they judged on multiple criteria.
Aric Laudwig (left), 16, Hunter Bender, 15, Matt Kelly, 15, and Winston Besgrove, 15, await orientation for the 83rd annual Missouri FFA Convention on Thursday at the Trowbridge Livestock Center on MU Campus. All four are freshman from Kirksville and are looking forward to the convention.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Nancy Morgester April 15, 2011 | 5:59 p.m.

This is insane. I can't believe their is a competition for judging livestock. Based on the pictures it seems completely inhumane. They really spray painted numbers on pigs? "State is a big deal." Really? No it isn't! Honestly the section that says,"students judged plucked chickens without heads or feet hanging from racks," is way too detailed for the general public and it will offend a lot of people. I happen to be one of them. This is just awful.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 15, 2011 | 6:42 p.m.

That's OK Nancy, it's more food for the rest of Missouri. City folk just don't understand.

(Report Comment)
Mary Leykamp April 20, 2011 | 1:30 p.m.

I teach Agricultural Education and some of my students actually participated in this FFA event. We were very excited when they made the newspaper. We found the comments at the bottom and the students were very upset that someone thought that what they were doing was wrong or harmful in any way. They wanted to write back immediately but I told them that not everyone has an agriculture background and we needed to think about this calmly. So we looked at the article in my 3 freshman classes. They were told that their responses needed to be professional and informative. I told them that I would choose the most well written response from each class. These are their responses:

1st Hour
Dear Nancy,
I would just like to inform you that livestock judging is an awesome opportunity. I personally judge livestock, and it’s a blast. Judging is an FFA competition, and what most people don’t see is that it broadens people’s minds. You have to give reasons and that itself improves public speaking. This also makes for great communication skills.
None of the animals used were harmed the day of the competition. Throughout the country livestock judging is a major event. We work hard as a team to improve the teams score. We all have a blast. It also broadens our minds, and gives us a good understanding of not only seeing which is the best animal, but also which of the animals will have the most future potential. We can also travel places with it such as nationals. Many colleges and universities give scholarships which is a good opportunity. Thank you Nancy, I just wanted to tell you what goes on behind the scenes.

We for one think that this is not inhumane. The stuff that you want to call spray paint is a wax chalk and washes right off.
State isn’t a big deal? It is for the people who judge livestock in our FFA and high school. And it helps the people in our society and also judges the meat quality. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to eat nasty meat as nor do I.
We believe that you have a right to your own opinion as do us Missouri folks. So this is our opinion have a great day.
BR, TP, & CC

Although based on these pictures things may seem inhumane, things are a lot different behind the scenes. The so called “spray paint” isn’t even spray paint. It’s actually a chalk that comes off. State may not seem like a big deal but, for the people who are involved in state it is a big accomplishment. They work really hard for the opportunity.
Plucked chickens, without feet or a head is part of the process of poultry judging…even in life. Most people will eventually end up eating chicken, including you. Having a detailed description and showing part of the process is a good way to open people’s minds to the life of agriculture and competitions in FFA. It’s not awful, it’s a part of life darlin’.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.