Iowa State Livestock Judging Team balances competitions, school


Photo: Whitney Sager/Iowa State Daily

The ISU Livestock Judging Team poses beside two of the national championship trophies past teams have won. ISU has won 20 national championships — more than any other university. Front row — Jason Lents, senior in agricultural engineering; Trever Shipley, junior in animal science; Andrew Noland, junior in agricultural studies; Blake Vander Molen, senior in animal science; Levi Johnson, senior in animal science; Jalane Alden, senior in animal science. Back row — Jonathan Declerck, lecturer in animal science and ISU Livestock Judging Team coach; Kaylee Keppy, senior in animal science; Cameron Luedtke, junior in animal science; and Ashley Wiebe, senior in agriculture and life sciences education.

Whitney Sager

Weekends and university breaks are virtually non-existent. Summers are highlighted with trips to county fairs. Days are started before the sun comes up.

That is the life of the Iowa State Livestock Judging Team.

The nine-member team consists of juniors and seniors with a passion for livestock. Coached by Jonathan Declerck, lecturer of animal science, the team spends 40 to 50 hours practicing each week in preparation for the 10 livestock judging competitions it competes in during the spring and fall semesters.

“You have to be good at time management,” said Jalane Alden, senior in animal science.

The competitions are held all over the United States, making for lots of travel time for the team.

“We basically live in a 15-passenger van,” said Trever Shipley, junior in animal science.

At the competitions, collegiate livestock judging teams evaluate 12 classes of livestock — beef, goats, sheep and swine — based on the animals’ body type. The teams are given 12 minutes to place the four animals in each class.

Deciding where to place each animal in the class is not always easy.

“It’s a lot of mental battle with yourself,” said Ashley Wiebe, senior in agricultural and life sciences education.

Also included in the competition are six to eight reasons classes. These classes require competitors to explain to a judge their reasons for placing the livestock in the class the way they did. Each competitor is given less than two minutes to defend their reasons to the judge for each class.

Declerck said the reasons classes are a way to prove to the judges that the competitors really know what they are doing and they did not just get lucky in placing the livestock in the class correctly.

The team members all agree that the competitions are stressful.

“When you put in so much time and effort, you don’t want to mess it up,” Shipley said.

Added to the stress is the length of the competitions. Most begin at 8 a.m. and do not end until 4 or 5 p.m.

“It makes for a long, stressful day at contest,” said Andrew Noland, junior in agricultural studies.

Competitors receive scores based on how correctly they placed each livestock class. Both individual and team scores are awarded.

Over the years, the Iowa State Livestock Judging Team has performed well at competitions. Iowa State holds bragging rights for having won the most national championships — 20 — and has two retired bronze trophies to prove its prestigious standing.

Besides the competitions, the team also holds a livestock judging camp in the summer for 4-H and Future Farmers of America members and helps with livestock judging competitions at county fairs.

Between the long hours and trying to manage both school and team commitments, the experiences gained from being a part of the team make it all worthwhile.

Team members are able to see what agriculture and livestock production is like in other parts of the United States and network with other students and producers.

“It gives these kids a well-rounded view of agriculture,” Declerck said.

The team will often make stops at the farms of former livestock judging team members or ISU alumni to practice while on their way to a competition.

“Farmers and producers are very supportive of agriculture and want to help out,” Declerck said.

To become a part of the team, students must first take Animal Science 305. This fall-semester class introduces students to the basics of livestock judging. From there, students can decide if they want to become a member of the team.

Kaylee Keppy, senior in animal science, recommends other students join the livestock judging team.

“It’s something that will stick with you for the rest of your life,” Keppy said.