Posted: January 13, 2015 (Reposted with permission)
By ELAINA SAUBER
HARRISONBURG -- With the spring semester now under way, many high school students spend weekends catching up on sleep.
Not so for members of the Rockingham County 4-H Livestock Judging Team, who spent last weekend winning the 2014 Western National Roundup, a nationwide contest that brought more than 100 students from across the U.S. to Denver.
Spotswood High School sophomore Bailey Carpenter, Blue Ridge Community College freshman MaKalyn Nesselrodt, Broadway High School junior Caley Ellington and Turner Ashby High School junior Hannah Craun have spent their lives around livestock, and each began judging them in the county’s 4-H chapter when they were 8 or 9 years old.
The team’s success took off in June 2014, when it placed first in the senior state 4-H livestock judging contest at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
The win made the team eligible for the national contest in Denver.
After raising about $7,000 in donations from local businesses and organizations, the group made the trip to Denver last week.
“We have gotten incredible support from businesses and organizations in the county,” said Tammy Craun, Hannah’s mother and coach of the team along with fellow 4-H volunteer Dave Walker.
With 25 participating teams, the contest concluded with an awards ceremony on Sunday that named the Rockingham County team the overall winner.
“We weren’t sure how we’d done, and we’re so excited we won,” said Hannah Craun, who grew up on a dairy and beef farm.
Nesselrodt, whose family raises dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep, considered the team to be the contest’s “underdogs.”
“It takes a lot of dedication and effort to make it as far as we have,” she said.
In addition to the team’s accolade, Ellington was individually ranked third in the nation in the senior level, while Nesselrodt ranked ninth.
How does the team manage to work so well together?
“Practice,” said Carpenter, its only male member, whose experience helping raise goats on his family’s farm contributed to his judging skills.
When competing, participants are judged as a team as well as on an individual basis on four types of livestock: beef cattle, sheep, hogs and goats.
Participants must evaluate animals and rank them from first to last, based on their market class or breeding class.
A steer, for instance, would be ranked based on production as “an animal for public consumption,” Craun said.
“You want it to be healthy and have good muscle so you get valuable product out of it,” she explained.
When judging a breeding class, one should check if the animal can easily get around and is “structurally sound and functional” to produce healthy offspring, said Ellington, whose family farm raises sheep.
After spending 15 minutes ranking each class, the team or individual must verbally explain their rankings to the judges.
“Points are awarded on the overall fluency and correctness of the reason,” said Dara Booher, extension agent for Rockingham County 4-H youth development.
Meeting once or twice a week to practice, team members also spend time honing skills on their own, memorizing terms and practicing explanations.
Booher said livestock judging teaches valuable skills that can be applied universally, such as public speaking, critical thinking and problem solving.
With its most recent achievement, the team must decide if it will pursue a trip to Scotland, since it is now eligible for a series of agricultural tours and to compete in the International Livestock Judging Tour this June.
The team would need to raise funds for the trip, which would give members the opportunity to visit different farms and explore how the Scottish raise livestock, Nesselrodt said.
Contact Elaina Sauber at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org