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Judging team helps Northeast students learn more about livestock

Judging team helps Northeast students learn more about livestock

NORFOLK, Neb. -- While winning livestock judging contests can be fun, the emphasis at Northeast Community College remains on getting better, building self-confidence, and learning how to evaluate livestock.

Mike Roeber, Northeast agriculture instructor and livestock judging coach, said he tries to instill those life building qualities and more into his livestock judging team each year. They never go to a contest with the only goal of the day being to win the contest.

Fortunately, instilling those qualities has resulted in a lot of wins and success over the years. And Roeber said he has been fortunate that many of his judging teams have previous experience judging from FFA or 4-H.

College is similar, but with more classes to judge and more reasons to give.

Roeber said most college contests feature 12 classes, but they vary. And then there are reasons, sometimes with up to eight sets at a contest.

Northeast began its season on Sept. 22 and by Sept. 28 had competed in three contests. The requirement to give four, six or eight sets of reasons represents a significant increase from the one or two sets usually required in contests for 4-H and FFA.

For those unfamiliar, giving a set of reasons requires the entrants to tell a judge why he or she placed the class of four animals the way they did. The reasons are usually given one-on-one, with the contestant speaking to the judge.

Giving reasons can be intense and require the person giving them to remember the class and describe the animals to the judge, using meaty terms and other livestock descriptions to explain why the animal is desirable. Points are deducted for inaccuracies or stammering.

Jack Ritter of Beemer is one of eight members on this year’s team. Ritter said he does not mind reasons as much as he did when he started. Ritter said he usually just tries to picture the class in his mind, then describes them, making comparisons and using terms that he has learned.

“It varies though. Sometimes there will be breeding heifers or breeding gilts or breeding sheep or goats. Breeding (classes) are becoming quite popular,” Ritter said.

Getting a four-animal class correctly yields 50 points. Points are deducted for being off, with 24 possibilities to place a class. The set of reasons can also provide up to 50 points.

“Usually in the college classes, you will judge like 10 classes and give reasons on half of them or five classes,” Ritter said.

Roeber said the major contests usually feature eight sets of reasons. At the college level, Northeast competes in a separate category for community colleges. The team usually consists of five members, with all five members’ points counting toward the score. There is one contest, however, where the lowest score is dropped.

In the community college division at many of the smaller contests, especially early in the season, there usually is a separate division for both freshmen and sophomores.

Other schools in Nebraska that have livestock judging teams are the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. Roeber has been coaching the livestock judging team at Northeast since 1998. He is the fourth coach, with the program begun by Jerome Settles.

With more students enrolling at Northeast with dual-credit hours, it is getting more difficult at times to have the students around their sophomore year because they have enough credits to graduate in two or three semesters.

“Some also weed themselves out because they don’t enjoy judging at the college level,” Roeber said.

Along with contests in Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa, the students are limited to entering each major contest one time. Usually only Northeast sophomores enter the major contests, unless they are going to graduate before then.

And in some of the smaller contests, Roeber brings his computers and helps the organizers score the contests.

“The computer figures it out for me,” Roeber said. “I can do it, but it is sure is a lot easier letting the computer do it.”

The major contests are the American Royal in Kansas City, the North American in Louisville, the National Western in Denver, the Fort Worth Stock Show and the Houston Livestock Show.

This is one of Roeber’s younger teams, with all eight members freshmen. Roeber said his advice to them for the first contest was simple: “mark all your cards, give all your reasons and we’ll go from there.”

“I don’t put any pressure on them,” he said.

Usually, after a few contests, the best individuals sort themselves out. In the past, there have been eight to 10 members at each grade competing for a spot on a team.

It requires a lot of time commitment, with at least one practice each week along with all the contests.

“I always tell them that reasons become their friend,” Roeber said, with a laugh. “They don’t always believe me.”

Kylie Luebbe of Seward said she doesn’t mind giving reasons – so far. Luebbe scored the highest of the Northeast team after the first contest on reasons.

“It’s a lot different from back in high school,” she said.

Luebbe said she likes judging sheep and goats and finds pigs the most challenging.

“Meeting all the people has been the best,” she said.

Nate Kaup of West Point said he enjoys judging, and he agrees meeting different people is the best. And he also does not mind giving reasons, but knows not everyone feels that way.

“Once you figure out the terminology, it is fine,” he said.

Kaup, who grew up on a farm that raises cattle, said he finds judging cattle the most difficult. That is because he has his own personal beliefs about cattle and what are most desirable as opposed to the show animals.

“I look at it more from the market side,” he said.

Cutline Livestock Judging

Members of the Northeast Community College Livestock Judging Team for 2023-24 are (front row, from left) Grace Meiergerd, West Point; Emily Happold, Doniphan; Jack Ritter, Beemer; Cole Miller, Charter Oak, Iowa; (back row, from left) Nate Kaup, West Point; Kyle Rehak, Wisner; Tatelyne Snover, Seward; Kylie Luebbe, Seward; and Ag Instructor and Coach Mike Roeber.  (Northeast Community College)