High school junior Adrienne Vought took a day off from classes Thursday to check out a few chickens at the 76th anniversary state FFA Convention.
Vought, along with her three teammates, spent the day in the field house at the Hearnes Center judging poultry against 48 other teams from around the state. More than 180 contestants were vying to be selected to represent Missouri in the national competition held later this year in Louisville, Ky. Other competitions included livestock evaluation, forestry, and food and science technology.
Vought, 17, judged four laying hens confidently by using the skills she learned at the Columbia Career Center. The center houses all the Columbia high schools’ FFA programs.
Vought searched for birds with tethered feathers, a worn beak and light-yellow shanks, or legs. Such characteristics suggest the bird is a good egg layer. Birds with bright colors and clean feathers are not what she is looking for.
Most contestants picked the birds up out of their cages to see how many fingers they could fit between the pelvic bones. Anything more than three fingers is evidence of sufficient production. Vought then explains to the judges in an oral presentation why she ranked the chickens in the order she did.
The poultry contestants also judged chicken and turkey carcasses hanging by chains for freshness, broken bones and discoloration. Vought judged eggs using a device that allows contestants to look inside the egg. The contestants also judged food products and took a written examination
Vought is one of more than 7,000 Missouri high schoolers, guests and advisers participating in the two-day event, which concludes this evening.
Rob Terry, MU professor of agricultural education, said the competitive events offer students a chance to have fun and demonstrate their skills.
Those competing qualified by placing high in their respective district competition.
“This is a chance to reward kids for their work in class,” Terry said. “It also gives a greater understanding of ag literacy, if you will.”
The National FFA Organization has more than 457,000 members, including 21,295 Missourians as of last year.
The organization was previously known as the Future Farmers of America. It changed its name to the FFA in 1988 to represent the growing diversity of agriculture.
Founded in 1928 with only 33 members, the organization initially focused on farming. Today it has expanded to cover a broad range of agricultural interests. Terry said only 1.5 to 2 percent of FFA members are interested in pursuing a farming career.
Vought, who is competing at the state level for the first time, is fortunate the FFA changed its regulations for membership in 1969 to include women. She said she hopes to pursue her state FFA degree next year, which is the highest honor a student can receive at the state level. Degree recipients will be honored at tonight’s awards ceremony.
Vought said her goals this week are to learn good sportsmanship, hard work and to meet new friends. She is holding her breath for the awards ceremony Friday night at the Hearnes Center.
“We are here to have fun, but we are going to try hard to win,” she said.
Vought and the rest of her team have reason to be nervous. Columbia’s poultry team won the state competition and placed third at nationals last year.
MU animal science instructor Jesse Lyons has been the poultry superintendent at the convention for more than 12 years. Lyons participated in the event in high school and knows the benefits it provides.
Lyons said students not only gain an understanding of how poultry is produced but also gain valuable communication skills from the oral presentation part of the competition.
“This is to reward them and gives them an incentive to learn more,” he said.