VT livestock judging team abounds with opportunities
BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Virginia Tech Livestock Judging Team takes a lot of work and commitment but its five members appear to be glad to do what it takes to be on the team.
Two members of the team, a competitive activity dating back to the 1940s, Kristin Watkins, a junior agriculture science major from Louisa, Va. and Devan Powers, a junior animal and poultry sciences major from Greenville, VA. recently talked about their experiences.
The team members were helping with an event on the Virginia Tech campus, the Virginia Tech Livestock Judging Field Day, held at the Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena when they granted an interview during lunch.
Other team members are Kristin’s husband, Hunter Watkins, a senior from Louisa, Va.; Brittany Truax, a sophomore from Hustontown,[cq] Pa, and Kendra Phipps, a junior from Piney Creek, N.C.
Dr. Bain Wilson, team coach, explained that Virginia Tech started having intercollegiate judging teams in the 1940s.
The activity of collegiate livestock judging began in the early 1900s at the Chicago International.
The team members and Wilson said the team consists of five members and is open to Virginia Tech students from all majors. In 2017, Virginia Tech had two students that were agribusiness and biochemistry majors.
“Schools will often have more than five team members, up to 20, and judge their top five on the first team,” Wilson said. “All students get to compete at most contests. Of the contests that we go to, the exception is the national contest at Louisville.”
The spring schedule for the Virginia Tech team has included the Dixie National Livestock Judging Contest in Jackson, Miss.; the Southeastern Livestock Expo in Montgomery Ala.; and the All East Livestock Judging Contest in Lexington, Ky.
This event was hosted by the University of Kentucky. In 2019 Virginia Tech will be the host.
The fall schedule includes the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, Md.; the Stockman Livestock Judging Contest in Frankfort, Ind.; the Southeastern Regional Livestock Judging Contest in Raleigh, NC; and the National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest in Louisville, Ky. This event takes place at the North American International Livestock Expo.
While the Virginia Tech program dates to the past century it was rebooted in 2016. A complete team in collegiate judging is five people.
The competition year is divided into spring and fall semesters, Wilson reported.
Kristin and Devan said the teams judge cattle, sheep, swine and goats. Preparing for the competition takes a lot of time and commitment, they stressed. They usually practice two hours twice a week and over five on Saturdays. They also help with livestock activities on campus such as the field day.
“We really appreciate the alumni and coaches volunteer time,’” Devan said. “They put in a lot of Saturdays.”
Places the 2018 teams practiced at in 2018 included the following: Virginia Tech beef, sheep, and swine centers; Point Pleasant Angus, Bland, Va.; Penley Simmentals, Bland, Va.; Virginia Department of Corrections Farm, Bland, Va.; Burns Farms, Pikeville, Tenn.; McDonald Farms, Blacksburg, Va.; Cassel Horned Dorsets, Wytheville, Va.; Woodlawn Farms, Greeneville, Tenn.; University of Tennessee; K-Bar Farms, Tylertown, Miss.; Hubbard Club Lambs, Ewing, Va.
Team members come to the activity with different backgrounds. Kristin said she has always been in agriculture. She and Hunter have their own farm and raise Simmental cattle as do his parents. She wants to be involved in agriculture, learn more and hopefully judge shows.
Devan said she is not from an agriculture background and has never been involved in 4-H. She learned about the team by going to an interest meeting on campus.
She hopes to use the knowledge she is gaining to work on better genetics.
They both agreed that everyone on the team has learned something in the spring semester. One of the advantages they see in the team is getting to travel, both to Virginia farms and to national destinations.
The coaches for the team, Wilson and his Ph. D student Taylor Langford have some definite goals for the team.
They are to increase and build competency in livestock evaluation; expose students to the variety of livestock operations in the beef, sheep, and swine industries; build decision making skills and ability to defend those decisions; and the ability to network within the livestock industry.
“These types of skills cannot be gained in the classroom alone,” Wilson said. “Students have lots of fun while traveling together. Taylor and I try to keep it fun while coaching. This activity does require a large time commitment, but students who stick it out think the commitment is more than worth it.
Many of the career opportunities I have had have been because of connections made within the livestock judging community.”
Wilson noted they also run a state 4-H team in the fall.
“They go to the same contests that the collegiate team goes to in the fall,” he said. “We pick that team from the top 10 individuals from the state 4-H contest in June. The top five to six individuals travel to all of the contests in the fall. Virginia has fielded several very successful teams in the past. The 2007, 2015, and 2016 teams won the very competitive national 4-H contest. The 2007 team was coached by Dr. Mark Wahlberg; 2015 team by Dr. David Roper and myself, and 2016 team by me. That team is currently coached by me and Langford who is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.”
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