Students test their chops in barrow show
AUSTIN — Junior high and high school 4-H and FFA members got the chance to test their livestock judging skills last week during the National Barrow Show judging contest, alongside college-aged competitors from across the country.
Hundreds of students packed into Crane Pavilion at the Mower County Fairgrounds to judge nine different classes of swine. 4-H and FFA contestants placed four classes of market hogs, two classes of breeding gilts and one truckload market hog class.
College students judged from the floor of the pavilion, surrounding the rings, while junior high and high school students did their judging from the bleachers. There were eight officials for the event, who turn in their scores first. Based on those scores, cuts are made in each class to decide official placings for the junior judges.
Alden-Conger FFA member Latrell Larson said the barrow show contest was the fifth judging event that he’d participated in. He said the contest felt a little more high-stakes than previous ones because it was swine-specific.
“It feels more special,” Larson said of the contest as he waited with other students outside the pavilion before the contest began. “It’s like the Super Bowl of pigs.”
Larson said they’ve been taught to distinguish parts of the pig, like the ham, shoulder, back, jowl and more.
“I’m just trying to identify the different cuts of meat, and how quality and sound the pig is,” Larson said.
Although he doesn’t see himself in an agricultural career in the future, Larson said that livestock judging is still important in his eyes because he believes it helps the industry find the best quality breeds and meat.
“We need people like this, who’re willing to judge, because the point of these shows is to improve the quality of our meat,” Larson said.
Ellen Knauth, director of junior shows for the National Swine Registry, oversees seven different junior shows — four regional, two national and one at the National Barrow Show. Having participated in similar events when she was younger, Knauth said that judging contests help students develop critical skills they can use in the future.
“It teaches you to make a decision, stick with it, and then defend your decision,” said Knauth, who judged at the National Barrow Show judging contest when she was in college.
For some of classes, college students were required to provide oral reasonings for why they placed a class the way they did. So not only do students need to make a quick decision, but also have to defend that decision to an industry official. Knauth said that coming up with those reasonings is a good way for students to work on their presentation and communication skills.
She said that judging teams also allow for students to build strong networks in the industry.
“The people that you meet, and the farms you get to go to and interact with farmers at is an incredible opportunity for networking,” Knauth said. “And it’s really invaluable to those kids once they graduate college.”