Angus Heifers 3,2,1,4. I began the class with the highest performing, deepest bodied heifer, who has the most potential when you get her on the move. Next comes a close middle pair that could really go either way. I placed 2 over 1 for her level top and femininity through her neck. You appreciate number 1 for her depth, but really have to put her in the third hole because she gets a little bit pinched as you come at her from the front. Lastly I have the 4 heifer. She is easily the lowest performing heifer in the class and has difficulty getting around. She is narrow topped and breaks behind her shoulder, therefore she is last in the class.

Can you see the heifers standing if front of you? No? Kinda? At least it wasn’t a hog class. That would have been harder. Okay, so maybe I’m a little rusty, but I could seriously listen to cattle reasons all day long. Giving them was a totally different deal! We started up a livestock judging team my sophomore year in high school with four of us. It was tricky because we didn’t have an alternate, so in order to make the scores count we all had to attend the field days.

I remember the first field day I ever attended. UC Davis. We arrived a little early to sign in and prepare ourselves. It was about that time that I learned of the rule I didn’t think I could follow. This rule was the most important in livestock judging and could get a team disqualified. But it was the one I thought I would surely break within the first 5 minutes.

No talking.

Seriously? No talking? For those of you who know me personally, I can see your smile through this computer screen, because you know quiet situations and me, we don’t really get along.

Okay, I thought, I can do this. I have to do this. Your team is depending on you said the angel on my right shoulder.

But there are SO many possible new friends here! Screamed the devil on my left shoulder. So many people to meet, connections to make, things to discuss!

Save them for the awards ceremony, said the angel. Okay. Fine.

Here’s how that worked out:  “Hey!! You’re on ___________’s Livestock Judging Team, right?” Weird look. Nervous smile. Sign of relief. “Yea…you’re on Livermore’s team right?” Boom. Instant friendship. That wasn’t so hard.

Mom laughed for days when I told her I couldn’t talk during the contests. She knows me. So while some resorted to talking to trees, my reasons work up style made me rather dizzy. I would walk in circles and stare at my feet. For some reason it helped me memorize quicker. I’d have to remember to spin the other way sometimes to unwind myself!

Junior year we got a little more serious and started having practices once a week. Worksheets, work outs, and mock reasons. It was getting real. We were getting better.

We would have 12 minutes to judge non-reasons classes and 15 for reasons classes. There was usually one reasons class per specie (beef, hogs, and lambs). Since I graduated they have added a goat division. Hallelujah, praise the lord I graduated when I did! One of those classes would be a performance class, which meant we would get data on the class. Usually it was a bull or heifer class with scores that helped determine how good their offspring would be. I remember going to the MJC field day my Sophomore year when they first handed us EPD sheets. Not only did I have no idea what ‘EPD’ stood for, I didn’t know how to use them or what they meant either! Expected Progeny Differences can be tricky little guys to understand. But once you get the hang of it, your animals should be judged and placed before they even honk the horn. Now I know what they stand for, what they mean, and I can even give a few tips and tricks to beginning judgers, too!

The horn. That was the most popular way to give time signals. The lucky duck on the management team of the field day, usually, got to sit in a truck with the heater running to honk the horn every 10 minutes for a two minute warning and again at 12 or 15 depending on the class type. Short beep for time warning, long beep to signal backs to the class and get your cards turned in.


Once we judged all of the classes it was time for reasons rounds. Immediately after the first reasons class was judged you could find folks in work-up mode. Memorizing their reasons of why they placed the class as such. The earlier you got started on these bad boys, the more likely you were to get all three all the way memorized. And that increased your chances of getting closest to a 50. Each class was based on a score out of 50. Every point you missed was a deduction from that perfect score.

Your name became a number for the duration of each contest. That’s how they kept track of you. Your number would be placed in a reasons rotation and then you would look at the posted sheet to figure out when you were going and what set you gave first. This was the hardest part of the contests, because sometimes it got confusing! But the quicker that got over and done with the quicker you could eat. And working with livestock fires up my appetite! Add the turbo brain power needed to memorize and that’s why I looked almost 20 pounds overweight every time–I stuffed granola bars and trail mix into my jacket pockets to hold me over til lunch time!

The reason’s stance was one that could go either way. Feet shoulder width apart. Hands behind your back. Steno pad tucked in the waste band of your pants. Slight tilt forward. Intense and confident gaze. GO!!! I placed this class of… and the rest was history. Some folks got a little too into it and leaned over a bit too much. Too much intensity was never a good thing. If you could smell the coffee on the official’s breath, that meant you were probably too close.

Eventually, after enough practice we placed 10th in the state my senior year and I placed 11th high individually. It was a great experience and fabulous practice for public speaking. Except, I will admit, I have spent nearly my whole college career learning how to un-robotize my speaking pattern and make my speech more conversational. But I still judge things in groups of four by a top, middle, and bottom pair with cuts of 4, 2, and 1. And I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world.

A huge thank you to our coach Lori for not only putting up with us, but teaching us valuable skills we will be able to use in our life to grow ourselves into professional adults is in order! Round of applause for Lori. Thank you. Our teams wouldn’t have made it very far without you as our coach. And still to this day you continue to help improve the Livermore FFA’s presence in Livestock Judging!

What was your favorite CDE in FFA? Be sure to leave a comment in the comment section below!


Mal the Beef Gal