As the county fair season winds down, the subject of judges seems to have wound up. However in the interest of fairness and con dentiality I will not disclose my sources or print any of the many letters and e-mails that I received. Instead, I will attempt to share with you the conjecture and sentiment expressed as a consensus of popular opinion.

Livestock judges, for the most part, are competent individuals attempting to do the best possible job they know how to do. But, sometimes, human judgment can become tainted with human error, as in the case of any subjective evaluation. This often leads to public criticism, justi ed or unjusti ed. It doesn’t really matter, because perception soon becomes reality, tarnishing the efforts of both the judge and the contestant.

The best of intentions cannot correct this situation, as where there are differences of opinion,  it will always be impossible to satisfy everyone. In fact a judge is being   asked to do the impossible; to determine what’s under the hide without bene t of anything more sophisticated than a trained eye.

Training and experience are important in determining the outcome of any class of livestock, but it has its limitations. The most evident of these is marbling.  Marbling is perhaps the most important factor in determining grade and ultimately value. Thus it is clear that there will be mistakes made by the live judge.

The most common mistake is that of not communicating well enough with the  contestants,  family members, 4-H leaders, fair officials, and the audience in general. The misunderstandings become compounded when everyone begins to draw their own independent conclusions. Rightly or wrongly this becomes disruptive and contributes to the chaos and disappointment of many of the participants.

Showing livestock should be a learning experience; especially at the amateur level. The formable years of young 4-H members is so important to their future and the future of the entire livestock industry that one cannot emphasize enough the impact of the role of the livestock judge. The intended purpose of any competition should be that of selecting the best individual in the class, but it should not be done at the expense of the remaining contestants.

Every contestant has the right to leave the show ring knowing why their animal was evaluated for a particular designation or placement in the class.  If your son or daughter was treated differently than that, I guess you have a right to be upset. You may not always like the explanation you’re given, but in the spirit of constructive evaluation you can learn from the experience.

As a parent you need to instill in your child the value of learning from their mistakes. In assisting your child, the selection process may have been awed or the feeding program may have been inadequate. But this does not give you cause to place fault upon the judge or impose your will as that of disagreement.

This is not to imply that you haven’t had a bad experience with a judge at your county fair — because, unfortunately it does happen. It’s usually the result of not doing your homework before selecting a judge. Too often availability and cost become more of a determining factor that that of credibility. For these reasons many of you have asked for a credential checklist to use in hiring your next judge. The following are a few suggestions that you might take under consideration.

COMMUNICATION:  This ranks the highest of all considerations — without the ability to be an effective communicator all other aspects of ability are for naught. The importance of correct placings can’t be minimized, but without the art of being able to articulate a meaningful set of reasons, the act of showing livestock becomes meaningless.

TRAINING:  Where did this individual receive his or her training, and how much training does he or she have? Too many self-proclaimed judges have never had any formal training, and as a result, brings a bias and self-imposed ideals that are not in sync with the rest of the livestock industry.

EXPERIENCE:  What shows has he or she judged in the past? What was the out-come of these shows? Does the judge come highly recommended?

EDUCATION:  Education doesn’t necessarily make you a competent judge, but a meat and animal science background should be a prerequisite for any formal   training.

TEACHER:  To make your show an educational event, the judge must have the ability to teach. The ultimate goal of every county fair should be that of educating our youth to become more knowledgeable and be positioned to make a greater contribution to the future of the livestock industry.

CARCASS EVALUATION:  What experience has the judge had in the inside of a meat cooler? There are still judges out there that have never seen a carcass. How can you evaluate an animal without knowing and understanding the basics of the class objective?

SPECIALIZATION:  One judge can not be all things to all people!  Select the judge that has the expertise and focus of the intended class of livestock.

CONSISTENCY:  Don’t send mixed messages! Hire a judge that is consistent in his or her decisions. All is lost when a judge seemingly changes his or her stance on every class.

BREED BIAS:  Shy away from judges that can’t see past the color. Some are so ingrained in breed characteristics that the objective of the class is totally lost in the translation.

RELATIONSHIPS:  Beware of judges with close relationships to some of the  contestants. The politics of showing livestock can often over-shadow the objective of the class.

ADAPTATION:  No two shows are exactly alike. Understand the uniqueness of your county fair, and the expectations of achievement. You don’t need a dictator. You  need a hired man that will adapt to your way of doing things.

If you’ve had a bad experience with a judge, you can probably add to this list, but remember — it is probably not as much about the judge as it is about the judging system.

The system needs to be over-hauled! More emphasis needs to be placed on categorically grouping livestock into evaluation perimeters, with nal placement decision being made in the cooler. This doe n’t work for breeding stock, but it does serve to give structure, purpose, and understanding to the entire judging regime. Instead of being a judging contest it would make more sense to have an evaluation clinic, where everyone parades out of the show ring a WINNER.


Knightro has contracted the professional services of Mr. Gunter Hess to assist the readers of the KNIGHTRO REPORT in obtaining access to any and all Knightro livestock marketing services. He can be contacted at [email protected];  phone: 970-290-3278, Evans, CO.