Penn State Livestock Judging Team learns the value of evaluation

Justin Heasley
April 02, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As members of the Penn State Livestock Judging Team, several students in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have been putting their knowledge of animal form and function to the test this semester at national competitions.

“My goal is for these students to develop an appreciation for how dynamic and diverse the industry is and how it is evolving,” said Benjamin Williamson, instructor in animal science and a team coach. “I also hope these experiences make them more confident when competing and that their achievements will make them more successful.”

He explained that most students who become members of the team have a strong interest in animal agriculture and want to enter the livestock industry upon graduation. To prepare for those careers, they will need to learn how to evaluate breeding and market classes for beef cattle, swine and sheep.

“They need the ability to select quality livestock so they can fulfill the needs and wants of the consumer,” Williamson said.

To qualify for the team, students are advised to enroll in classes that will help them hone their knowledge of livestock and their communication skills, including Animal Science 324: Value Determination of Meat Animals; Animal Science 424: Livestock Breeding, Evaluation, and Selection; and Animal Science 426: Advanced Livestock Judging.

Animal Science 324 familiarizes students with how the meat animal production market determines an animal’s monetary value based on its carcass. Students are taught how to measure loin eye area and back fat depth, which aid in the value determination process.

The next course, Animal Science 424, focuses on sorting and judging beef, goat, sheep and swine — lessons that Emily Supancik, a junior majoring in animal science, said were helping her to “further my knowledge in the fundamentals of sorting and selecting quality livestock.”

This coming fall semester, the students will take Animal Science 426 to further their knowledge of evaluating and selecting high-quality livestock. Throughout their education, students receive hands-on lessons at the Penn State Beef and Sheep Center and the Penn State Swine Center.

Coursework focuses on the credentials and guidelines for each species of animal, Williamson explained. For example, market animals need to have muscling and the ideal amount of fat covering. The students are instructed on how to determine if an animal has that right amount of fat covering on them and if the animal has “meat animal shape.” Breeding stock animals should have a good skeletal structure so that they will have longevity to be productive for an extended period.

“These experiences have really helped me pay attention to detail and focus on the little things,” said Katie Elder, a junior majoring in animal science.

Members of the team compete against universities across the United States in contests that are held in conjunction with major industry events. For example, the team traveled recently to the Dixie National Livestock Show in Jackson, Mississippi, to compete in its first judging competition of the year.

On their way to the competition, team members had learning opportunities at multiple farms, including Tennessee River Music, Gibbs Farms, and Dyess Farms. At Tennessee River Music, the students were able to sort and judge classes of Hereford and Angus cattle.

During their time at Gibbs Farms, team members experienced multiple classes of Simmental cattle. Dyess Farms gave the team a unique experience, allowing it to judge Brahman cattle. This was the first time most of the team members had seen Brahman cattle because the breed is not common in the northeastern United States.

At the competition, the team judged 12 classes of beef cattle and gave oral reasons on eight of those classes, explaining to a judge why they placed the class the way they did. In the end, the team placed fifth in the market cattle division.

Future competitions for this semester include the All East Livestock Judging and Evaluation Contest and the Spring Judging Contest, both held at Penn State. The team also competed in the Houston Livestock Show Judging Contest.

More information on the team can be found at

  • Penn State Livestock Judging Team members

    Penn State Livestock Judging Team members are, from left, Ethan Stas, Mackenzie Yorlets, Jessi Reichenbach, Shelby Dean, Justin Heasley, Emily Supancik, Katherine Elder and Lauren Ebel.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated April 02, 2019