Livestock judges bring keen eye, experience to SEMO District Fair

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Richard Hays looks over a mare in the 1- to 2-year-old category of the draft horse judging Monday at the SEMO District Fair. Hays has been judging draft horses and mules for nearly 20 years. (Laura Simon)

As the young handler of a champion Holstein exited the livestock arena at the SEMO District Fair grounds Monday, Competition judge Howard Dust smiled, happy to see a possible future farmer excel.

"This is what makes this fun, it's kids like that," said Dust, an experienced judge from Shumway, Ill., who made his debut at the SEMO District Fair this year. "It's about the camaraderie too, they're all like family."

Dust is one of 60 people recruited to judge the livestock, poultry, sheep and swine competitions at this year's fair. Like Dust, the recruits must have an educational background and experience in judging. Most of them, according to Pete Poe, fair association president, are certified through the Missouri Department of Agriculture or with their respective home states.

"They're not people who have just come off the farm," Poe said. "We're not the only fair this week, and sometimes we have to be in competition to get the people we want."

Dust, who has been judging at county fairs since 1973, judged Holstein, Brown Swiss and Guernsey herds Monday afternoon at Arena Park. He said the more than 55 head of Brown Swiss cattle were among the best he has seen at the fair level of competition. When looking over the Brown Swiss, he said, he notes the length and width of their body and whether their hips are shaped properly so birthing their first calf is easy.

Judging the dairy cattle, Dust said, is nearly 40 percent about their body and their udder. The remaining observations he makes are about their mobility, the strength of their feet and legs and the shape of their muzzle.

"This is one of the better run fairs with some of the best quality cattle for this level," Dust said.

At the Arena Park baseball field Monday, Richard Hays, originally from Sparta, Ill., was judging Belgian draft horses and mares. Hays has more than 20 years of experience judging shows and has traveled the country judging fairs in Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois.

He has been a judge at the SEMO District Fair four times. He said he has raised and shown horses so he knows the traits of a good horse.

Hays first observes how close the horse keeps his front and back leg. The closer together they are, the more force the horse has to pull a carriage or other farm materials, he said.

Hays also judged the horses on whether they travel straight and on the strength of their feet.

"Their knees need to be coming up almost level," Hays said.

Verla Mangels of Oak Ridge, whose entire family raises and shows draft horses, said she has encountered a lot of judges and many of them focus on the animal's feet. Mangels and her husband began raising and showing horses in the 1960s, and now many of her grandchildren show their own at competitions.

The family has seen Hays at a lot of fairs and have always respected his process, Mangles said.

"I don't think there are any unfair judges, they just sometimes look for different things," Mangels said.


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