Judging livestock is never easy.
It takes a lot of time, dedication, studying and practicing to perfect the art and perform well in competitions.
This is exactly what it took for the team of PD Miller, Skyler Miller, Mikayla McNamee and Tyler Pickinpaugh from the Torrington/Lingle, Wyo., FFA chapter to bring home the gold from the National FFA convention.
Their adviser, Jason Groene, couldn’t be more proud.
“I have a tremendous amount of pride in those four, simply because they are all very solid young people. They have helped me attain a goal that I let slip away as a student and nothing can replace what the four of them have done for me,” he said.
He continued, “They all show up when they are supposed to, they listen, and they all worked extremely hard to accomplish this. Two of them started judging with me when they were freshmen and two of them came with some experience. The four of them get along so well together. I don’t think I can fully put into words what it means to me to have them be national champions.”
The National FFA Livestock CDE is a competitive event that tests the student’s ability to select and evaluate livestock. Event components include eight evaluation classes of beef, sheep, swine, and goats; oral placement reasons on four classes; and a written exam on livestock production.
A team activity, utilizing reproductive and marketing information, demonstrates the teams’ livestock selection ability.
“We knew if we performed well we would have a chance at winning,” said PD Miller, who is a junior at Torrington High School.
“It meant everything because it was my last high school contest and the last time I will judge with that team. It was an amazing accomplishment that we had aimed for, but to have it be a reality was just unbelievable,” said McNamee, who is now a freshman in college.
Skyler Miller, who is a sophomore, felt good about their efforts.
“I felt like it went well when we were done. The national contest is put together really well. The classes were put together with logic and reasoning, and you had to find differences. I like that better than the state contest, where I didn’t feel the quality was as good. It was easier to see the differences at the national contest.”
The team practiced vigorously for months before the contest, including attending a livestock judging camp at Casper College.
“It really gave us a sense of what we needed to do to improve our reasons. We talk really well, and at that camp it gave us a sense that this contest may be bigger, and we may need to change up some technical things on speed and voice,” explained PD Miller.
“We met once a week, where we would focus on the test and team activities and did a lot of studying,” said Skyler Miller.
Groene helped them study each week.
“I always tried to make sure they had all the information they needed to keep getting better every day, and put them in a position to excel. So much of what we do depends on how much the kids were willing to commit to what we were trying to accomplish as a team, and this bunch did everything they needed to,” he said.
He added, “I have lost track of all the hours that we have spent judging, giving reasons, and working on test information.”
The Miller brothers have been competing in livestock judging since they were both 8 years old. Their family owns a show calf operation, where they have 300 head of show cattle.
“Livestock judging is really relevant to what my family and I do. I hope to continue to do it in the future, and also raise club calves and show animals. Livestock judging is a good combination of evaluating and then defending why, and helps me with public speaking,” PD Miller said.
Pickinpaugh also grew up around livestock, but didn’t start judging until his freshman year of high school.
“It’s something I’ve been around my whole life. I’ve been on a lot of feedlots and ranches, and have worked with cattle since I was little. We do beef production and sheep production, and my family has raised quarter horses for 100 plus years,” he explained.
He plans to attend college and pursue an agricultural degree, and wants to continue livestock judging. “I like to apply knowledge and skills to something that I am good at,” he said.
McNamee also began judging when she was a freshman. “I got into it my freshman year because I have always been around livestock and so it was a good fit.”
She continued, “I think the biggest reason I like is because I have such an awesome team and a passionate coach. Judging gives me the opportunity to see some of the best livestock in the nation and be around something that I love.”
All of the members of the team enjoy FFA.
“I like FFA because the scale of people who are in it gives you good competition. With so many members, it gives you a feel for what you go into the industry what you have to compete against,” PD Miller said.
Skyler Miller added, “FFA keeps you sharp and tests your skills. It makes you use your head and think. I also believe that it creates a positive spin on agriculture, not only to the younger generation, but also to the adults of the world. There are a lot of negative views on ag, and FFA is one of the positives.”
Groene didn’t intend to be a livestock instructor and FFA adviser at first, but quickly realized that was his calling.
“I have been teaching agriculture education for 11 years, and ironically when I left high school, I did not want to deal with students who were like I was in school. However, when I graduated from college and got a job, I quickly realized that I had made a wrong choice in careers. During that time, I was volunteering as a 4-H coach in the county I lived in, and then a position opened up to teach and I have never looked back,” he said.
A positive support team helped every member succeed.
“I just want to thank everyone who has helped me and the kids along the way and thank all the people who have congratulated us. Especially I want to thank my wife and kids who give so much of their time with me to help accomplish what we did,” Groene said.
Members from Wyoming FFA also found success in several other career development events.
The fourth place team of Zachary Eisenbarth, Ali Briggs, Crickett Volmer and Travis Jinks — from the Southeast Goshen FFA — placed fourth overall in the Farm Business Management CDE.
Another CDE where Wyoming students found success was in the Environmental and Natural Resources CDE. The team from High Plains FFA, consisting of Joshua Berry, Kiernan Brandt, Jace Cussins and Josiah Masie, placed fifth.
Wyoming also saw Connor Coughenour of Casper FFA Natrona County win Division one in the Power, Structural and Technical Systems Agriscience Fair. The National FFA Agriscience Fair is a competition for FFA members who are interested in the science and technology of agriculture.
“We are developing solid young people, who will be our next generation of leaders and who are developing skills that will take them far in life. I do not think that any other youth organization can touch what we do for our FFA members on a daily basis. Not only do we instruct them in the classroom, we give them an avenue to apply their learning, and guide them in a career decision that will affect their personal growth,” stated Groene. ❖