I climb into my silver Pontiac Grand Prix with tear-filled eyes. As I drive away, the carnival sounds of the Missouri State Fair fade. Summer was over, and I had to drive to Fort Scott, Kansas, to become a part of the Fort Scott Community College Livestock Judging Team.
As I crossed the Missouri state line into Kansas, the same question kept eating at me: Am I good enough to do this?
What I didn’t realize that day was that being a part of a livestock judging team isn’t always about how well you compete, but what you gain out of the experience.
Since 2012, I have been jumping into a 15-passenger van and dealing with boys who have an inappropriate taste in music and the most random conversations. The beauty of it is, no matter the differences, everyone is passionate about one thing: the livestock industry.
It wasn’t long before my self-doubt withered away and was replaced with cherished memories, unbreakable friendships and valuable life lessons. I can confidently thank being a part of a livestock judging team for that.
Our practices consisted of visiting farms and ranches of owners who my teammates and I can add as connections. We are at that stage of our lives where we understand it is not always what you know, but who you know. Although our trips might keep us away from classes for a week, our communication and time-management skills are put to test by keeping in touch with our professors and staying on top of coursework while we are on the road.
After I graduated from Fort Scott Community College in 2014, I looked forward to transferring to MU and becoming a part of a judging team that, in previous years, had included my grandpa and dad.
Miriam Martin, MU alumna and former teammate, is currently applying her livestock judging experience to her professional career.
“I work on a cattle ranch where making split-second decisions are an everyday occurrence,” Martin said. “Livestock judging prepared me for a career in the livestock industry because it taught me focus, confidence and commitment.”
Martin was involved in livestock judging at the collegiate level. She began her career through her 4-H Club and stayed involved through FFA.
I could not agree with Martin more. For me, livestock judging has helped me beyond preparing to judge four sets of animals in a class. I have learned how to stay calm under pressure and make a thorough decision, which I have been able to apply to my current internship at the Missouri Pork Association. Since I began judging livestock at the collegiate level, I have travelled to 14 states and competed in contests in Scotland and Ireland.
However, the credit for my judging success over the years goes to my coaches. I am lucky to have had mentors who are not only passionate about the industry, but also about helping my teammates and me succeed.
MU graduate Nick Mertz experienced collegiate-livestock judging both as a contestant and coach. This past fall, Mertz not only received his master’s of science in ruminant nutrition but also finished by coaching the 2015 MU Livestock Judging Team.
“It is certainly difficult to just pick one favorite part of judging and coaching,” Mertz said. “Participating in livestock judging has been one of the most impactful and beneficial activities I have been involved in.”
Mertz can thank his dad, Chris, for starting his livestock-judging career at the age of 5. Chris Mertz, who is an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, brought Nick along with his students to the University of Missouri Judging and Grading Clinic.
Now, the boy who spent a weekend in the spring, sitting in dusty seats at Trowbridge Livestock Arena during grading clinics, transfers the skills gained from his involvement with livestock judging to his current job at Cargill.
“The communication skills, work ethic and industry experience are things I have developed from judging,” Nick Mertz said. “From graduate school to a career with Cargill, these skills, which can’t always be learned in a classroom, have helped me every step of the way.”
Although my collegiate judging career ended as of Nov. 2015, and I was finally able to experience Christmas break, I am still trying to adjust to not having weekday and weekend practices. However, I am not fully prepared to give up judging this spring, and I am fortunate to be able to help my younger sister and brother with their FFA livestock judging team.
Now, as this chapter of my life closes, I move closer to starting my professional career in the agriculture industry. I can’t help the fact that every time I see a white, 15-passenger van on the highway, I look to see if it is a judging team. If it is, deep down I get extremely jealous.