On Tuesday, Nov. 23 the Farm Dept. of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, MA played host to four FFA livestock judging teams from across the state.
The four schools represented were the Essex Technical High School, Danvers, MA; the Norfolk School, Walpole, MA; the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Northhampton, MA and the Bristol County Agricultural High School, Dighton, MA.
The purpose of the days exercise was to give students hands on experience in judging various classes of livestock to sharpen their skills in evaluating live animals, taking a written exam and orally defending their choices before an experienced herdsperson. The team with the highest overall level of performance will represent the state in competition with other New England Chapters at the Big E in West Springfield next September and then in October, move on to the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.
Today’s veterinary students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, many of whom may have had limited exposure to farm animals. The on-campus farm helps overcome any possible shortcomings a student might have in that area. At this time there are 16 FFA Chapters in the state with six of those offering programs in Animal Science. A wide variety of programs are offered to students including landscaping and floriculture making it highly probable that somewhere in the state there will be a program that will meet the interests of any given student. Kim Lafleur is the State FFA Advisor overseeing 36 events such as this during the course of a year each focused on a particular area of major interest. Among the support activities that Kim and her Student Assistant Harley Anne Hamilton provided was tallying the judging cards that each student submitted at the end of each class. Harley Anne currently serves as the Treasurer of the State FFA. Student scores were based on how they matched up against the official ranking determined by members of the farm staff that included Garth Miller, Stephanie Bertrand. Jim Phillips and Scott Brundidge.
Each team was comprised of four members and in some instances one or more alternates who were designated the B group. The latter students were generally freshman and sophomores at the beginning of their learning curve while the A team were upperclassmen striving to be the best of the best each hoping to make it to the Nationals in the fall of 2016. The Superintendent of the Judging Contest was Susanne Green who is the Superintendent of Norfolk Vocational Agricultural High School, Walpole, MA. Susanne got the judging started after giving the teams the ground rules for the day’s activities and directed them first to a hay barn where two pens each containing four Yorkshire gilts were set up. One group was evaluated for their potential as breeding stock while the other group was judged as market hogs. The four teams were divided into two groups with each group given 15 minutes to do their judging of one pen after which time the groups rotated and judged the opposite pen. Each team member filled out their scorecard that were then handed in and delivered to the office where the scores were tabulated and recorded.
The group then moved to the sheep barn where two pens of Dorset ewes waited to be judged. Here the format was the same as with the swine, two teams working each pen for 15 minutes and then rotating, one pen designated as a breeding group and the other as market ewes. Once finished with this part of the exercise a group of seven ewes were placed in a pen and each team member was asked to pick the one ewe they would choose as their own if given that opportunity. During this part of the morning work out each participant was required to complete a 25-question quiz covering a wide range of topics that related directly to the days activities. It might be an interesting exercise for those readers who feel a bit smug about their own level of knowledge to take the exam and get an idea as to the level of information to which these students are being exposed.
Once the sheep had been judged the group moved to the cattle barn to judge two groups, one of Belted Galloways and the other Simmentals. It should be noted that during the judging process that certain pens of animals were designated a reason group which simply meant that that group would require that the fledgling judges give an oral defense of the order in which they placed a class of animals to a experienced judge. Only those who have been through this exercise can appreciate the level of stress placed on those who participate. The higher the level of competition, the higher the level of stress.
Once the judging had finished it was time for the young judges to take some time for a lunch break. To avoid any possible delays in the campus dining area and insure that the day’s activities move along at the right pace the students brought their own lunches. Oral reasons followed the lunch break; these were one on one and not group affairs. The results of these conversations were passed on to Kim LaFleur to be made part of each individuals record for the day.
The professional manner in which these students went about their work today was something to be admired. No horseplay, no giggling very much focused on their assignments and most attentive when being given instructions reflecting well upon themselves and their respective schools.