The start of school may have still been a few days away, but about 90 area youths spent Saturday morning filling in the bubbles on a test form at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo.
Middle school and high school-age youths worked their way through six pens stocked with four animals each, judging and ranking them for their quality. The more their decisions matched the judges’ determinations, the more points they scored both individually and for their teams.
Ryan Pieniazek, an agricultural science teacher at Krum High School, helped organize the event. Many, but not all, of the youths who participate in livestock judging events also raise animals. While raising an animal helps teach responsibility and money management, judging provides students an opportunity to learn decision-making, he said.
“They learn to think on their feet,” Pieniazek said. “And you have to be able to defend your decision.”
For the first hour, the youths went from pen to pen to evaluate and rank the animals. For about 12 minutes at each pen, they considered breeding heifers, prospect steers, breeding sheep, breeding goats and two kinds of market pigs for the quality of their muscle and bones.
They took additional notes for three of the six pens, knowing questions about their decisions would come later. In the final minutes of the contest, they answered 15 questions from the judges about the quality of the animals: For example, which was the thickest-ended, most powerfully constructed, heaviest-muscled steer? Which was the poorest structured ewe in the class?
Taylor Schertz, 15, of Krum said the contest questions sometimes make participants rethink their rankings and change them, but she didn’t do that this time.
“I was pretty positive in my answers and choices,” Taylor said.
Even though it was his first time to judge in competition, Ross Sylvester, 14, of Krum said he was confident in his choices, too.
But Taylor and fellow Krum team member Sterling Pieniazek, 14, said the sixth pen, which had four Duroc pigs ready for market, was hard to judge. They noticed that lots of other participants also struggled to evaluate and rank that pen.
Morgan McCullough, 13, of Pottsboro beamed when she realized she ranked the Duroc pigs as the judges had. She has been raising and showing pigs since she was in the third grade.
“I thought at first I blew it,” she said.
After turning in their answer sheets, and while a volunteer ran them through the scanner for scoring, the youths walked from pen to pen with the judges again to hear how the judges ranked the animals and why.
Ryan Pieniazek said the question-and-answer portion of the contest helps reinforce what the adults hope the youths will learn, making sure they see the differences and make good, basic decisions about quality livestock.
Otherwise, they might get a good score simply from guessing right, he said.
“We make sure they are on the right track,” Pieniazek said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.