Adventures of a Livestock Judger!

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Dr. Seuss has been, and always will be, my favorite childhood book. Even to this day it sits on a stand, on my desk, in my room. Since it’s my favorite book, there is no surprise I certainly enjoy traveling. Over the last five years livestock judging has not only given me so many opportunities for new, exciting experiences, but the chance to meet so many influential people in the livestock industry.

Livestock judging has been my passion since my sophomore year in high school. Yet it’s my senior year when the opportunities started. Senior year of high school is hectic – not only do you have those stressful, overwhelming questions of deciding on what college do I go to? But you’ve got to ask yourself, “Do I move far away? Do I stay close to home?”  Then it’s the decision of deciding what my degree will even be.  Personally, I decided I was going to put those questions off as long as I could, little did I know then these questions would be the start of something truly amazing.

Its late November of my senior year of high school and judging practices have officially started. The Spring went great for my judging team. We were top five at every contest and constantly learning from our mistakes at each of those contests. State finals come in May, time for our last seven months of hard work to pay off. It goes, “1st place overall for Livestock Judging…. Minarets FFA!” This is where it gets good. Not only did we win, but we now have the chance to represent California at the National FFA Livestock Judging Contest. Traveling to Indianapolis with my three best friends, following our passion for livestock judging…..honestly, could it get any better?

High Team Overall National FFA Contest 2014 (from left to right, Coach Kristi Mattes, Coach Clay Samper, Jordyn Samper, Bailey Samper, Shyann Mattes, Mikaela Fringer, Coach Laurie Fringer)

October of 2014 our trip to National Convention begins. We had the chance to take part in the Premier Stockman Contest in Indiana. Then we traveled throughout the great state, not only seeing incredible stock but meeting the people behind them all. Ultimately, by the end of the trip our goal was successfully accomplished, we had won the National FFA Livestock Judging contest! This trip was definitely a growing experience for us. We finally learned what the chemistry of a team can accomplish.


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Ticket from the Royal Highland Show – Edinburgh, Scotland

Now here’s where livestock judging took me on a ONCE IN A LIFETIME TRIP! After winning the National Contest, we were awarded with the chance to take part in a trip to Scotland, Ireland and London. The trip would have other teams from the U.S. that had been top three at their respective National Contest. In the summer of 2015, the four us and our coaches (each of our parents) were on a 14-hour fight to Scotland. There we took part in the Royal Highland Judging Contest, visited several cattle ranches and even had the opportunity to experience some nightlife activities. My favorite visit in Scotland was meeting the owners behind Highland Waygu Ranch. This ranch is the UK’s largest producer of Waygu cattle. This was remarkable to see how accomplished they were after only being established in 2011. After a couple days in Scotland we took a ferry ride to Ireland.


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Cattle Ranch in Scotland

In Ireland, we saw sheep ranches and crop farmland and judged in a smaller Ireland show. This contest was so much different than the typical contests back home.  We judged each class as a group and each class was simply the class from the show that day. Meaning class sizes were from five to ten usually. While in Ireland we even got to see the Ring of Kerry and even go to Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone to be given the “gift of gab.” From there London was the vacation part of it, it was filled with just sightseeing of the London eye, Buckingham Place and plenty more. The trip to Europe has by far been the most amazing, inspiring experience I have had thus far. The memories I made with my three teammates/best friends will be irreplaceable!

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Group picture at Blarney Castle, Ireland. We called ourselves “Okla-ginia-ssouri-fornia” – 4 states in 1


Now, relating back to my senior year of high school. It’s late in November of 2013 and the opportunity arises for me to visit Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Nervous yet excited. Oklahoma was the furthest southeast I’ve gone up to this point in my life. The visit was awesome! Now, time goes on, but I have to keep in mind, “was I really going to move all the way to Oklahoma?”

Brahman Cow at a Workout in Texas

Finally, February of my senior year I made my decision. I’m going to go be a part of the Livestock Judging Team at Northeastern Oklahoma. School started in August, wow was that scary! It was a time to make new friends. The first week we got right into judging. In two years of going to school there we traveled as a team from as far west as Denver, Colorado to as far east as Louisville, Kentucky to as far south as Houston, Texas. At NEO, I learned that your Livestock Judging Team easily becomes your family in every which way. We spent endless days practicing, and many a late nights driving. And one time, even through a whole night without a stop, just to get to a workout. In-between all the practices the producers we met were just as amazing as the quality of their livestock.


My team here taught me that competiveness within a team can be an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. I learned competiveness amongst your team members helps push each person to their full potential. Yet there’s moderation with that, because team cohesiveness gets the goal achieved. I’ll forever keep my memories I made at NEO close and never forget the friendships I made here.

End of year picture at the Aggie Banquet of the 2015 – 2016 NEO Livestock Judging Team

My two years at NEO were absolutely incredible. Miami, Oklahoma will always have a special place in my heart.

Here I am now at Western Illinois University and I couldn’t be happier with my choice to come to school here. Starting my junior year here, getting thrown into the National Barrow Show with a group of people I had NEVER met before was the best thing that could happen.

2016 National Barrow Show – Grand Champion Truckload – Western Illinois University

Western has showed me what the Midwest is. From all the corn (which is much different than the views I’m use to at home) and the cold, to absolutely amazing livestock producers within the state. My judging team here was something special. This was the team where I finally realized what determination and drive can do. This last Fall I couldn’t even count the number of hours we put into practicing. We all had some kind of fire in us to be the best. In the end, we finished third overall at Louisville, which to some may not be great. But, for me I’m proud to have been a part of this team. Without our hard work in the Fall and the insight from our coaches, Mark Hoge and Hayden Wilder, we wouldn’t have got where we did, nor grown as individuals like we did.

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2017 Champion Team Overall at National Barrow Show (left to right, back row – Coach Mark Hoge, Cory Webster, Will Taylor, Nick Bangert, Coach Hayden Wilder, front row left to right – Courtney Scherer, Olivia Claire, Mikaela Fringer, Will Blankers, Jared Lamle)

Livestock judging, as you can tell, has been one of the most influential things in my life and I believe it has helped shaped me into the person I am today. Not only did I gain new friendships, experience incredible places and make connections with successful livestock industry individuals, but along the way I learned life lessons that I will always remember. Being able to move from California to Oklahoma, and now Illinois, has honestly opened up so many doors for me in terms of connections with people across the country alone. With that said, I just to say thank you to everyone that has had an impact on me from this point on.


Hi, my name is Mikaela Fringer and I am originally from Madera, California. I’m currently a senior at Western Illinois University, with plans of graduating in May with a major in Ag Science with an emphasis in Ag Business and an option of Animal Science. I have a passion for the Agriculture and Livestock industry and I can’t wait to further travel and experience International Ag!

Hope you enjoyed the blog, thank you for reading!





The Evolution of Showpigs in My Lifetime

The days go on, and the trends and preferences change in the show ring, in what seems as just a blink of the eye. Its a basic understanding of economics that allow this to all make sense. The consumer’s tastes and preferences change, and so does the demand. Hogs from the early 2000’s were far different than how we prefer them today in the showring. A lot of this is due to the revolving trends that are constantly changing in the showpig industry of what a show judge deems is ideal, and what is not.

When I began showing hogs at a young age, I vividly remember them being conformationally way different than they look today.

2003 – “Queenie” – Photo by Steve Mapes

As you can see by this picture, this gilt that was selected as a breed champion at the Indiana State Fair in 2003, is quite different than you see at shows these days. They were an extremely lean made kind of hogs that all had a tremendous amount of muscle shape. Sure, they were frail featured and steep hipped, but incredible in terms of daily gain. A great testament to the breeder’s in that era’ s commitment to growth excellence.

Showpigs have the ability to make a great amount of change in just one year, and a lot of this is due to their short gestation length, which is roughly just 114 days. In just one year, change can definitely be seen.

2004 – “Dixie” – Photo by Steve Mapes

Now this photo is still a long ways away from where we are today, but a change can be seen just in terms of being more pliable and having a softer look to this gilt’s center body shape. She is level in her design and just seems to be more parallel in her lines with a sense of balance. Still lean and has plenty of muscle shape, while being frail featured by today’s standards.

2008 – “Quilla” – Photo by Steve Mapes

Here in 2008, I feel as if this is almost an entirely different showpig. This hog has a soft and productive look to her body shape, a balanced look and a great angle to her blade and knee up front. Breeders began looking more into the productivity of pigs and realizing that they needed to have a more productive “easy feeding” look in order for them to be as good of sows as possible when it came time to farrowing.

Making a jump to 2011, hogs were in a very awkward transition. They started getting almost too long bodied, and at the same time, they were becoming more moderate and too low to the ground. They were soft looking in their appearance and were carrying more condition than before.

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2010 – “Killer” – Photo by Steve Mapes

This hog has substantially more feature than any of the hogs that came in earlier years. There isn’t near as much muscle description as there once was, and just had a plainer look. Again, balance, a level design and a “square” look has certainly been evident in the past few years. This is a change that allows hogs to have a level look, but at the same time, when hogs were bred to have level hips, many breeders have questioned if this correlates to farrowing issues.

2012 is the time that hogs were extremely soft bodied, moderate and ultra easy doing. They pushed the limits in terms of what was acceptable in terms of condition. They had shape, but not an extreme amount of definition. Personally, the hogs at this time were my least favorite.

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2012 – Photo Contributed by Weisinger Farms

When I think of hogs during this time, the terms plain and generic come to mind. No offense to exhibitors who had success at this time and the firms who raised hogs that were successful, but I think many breeders would tend to agree that the kinds of hogs being raised in 2012, certainly wouldn’t rank towards the top of the best ones they have raised.

Moving in to 2014, pigs started to bounce back and go back the right direction. These hogs had muscle, body shape, growth, and most importantly – the females were still practical and productive when it came time to farrowing.

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2014 – “Lil Wayne” – Photo by Steve Mapes

I may be partial, but I think I speak for my family that the hog to the right was the time that we showed some of the best hogs we’ve ever had at the home place. In terms of hogs that were genuine in their skeletal width, had feature, a stylish look and large rib shapes. The showring presence and look seemed to be a new fad. Everyone began chasing the trend in the fall breeding season. Almost as if it was a contest to see who could make them taller fronted, longer necked and as cool looking as possible.

The cool looking, slick built kind of hogs became the new trend. If they looked pretty and extremely long necked with balance and proportions from the side – everyone seemed to be huge fans for those kind of hogs. Truth be told, when some breeders chased the trend of making hogs that run up hill and have the extra height up front, some started sacrificing genuine skeletal width. They got flat bodied and started sacrificing productivity.

This leads us to the modern day showpig. A lot of it in my opinion is about the right body condition, but more about the look. A hog may be extremely good looking on the profile, but for the vast majority, I think a lot of width coming and going was sacrificed.

I’m not here saying that I’m a visionary and my opinions are right on the trends showpigs have gone through, these are simply my observations and personal opinions on where showpigs have been over my time growing up in the industry. Also, I’ve spent some time speaking with breeders and people who have been in the industry longer than myself, and there seems to be many similar opinions, and they have helped mold my observations here in the blog.

There were a couple things some competitive breeders emphasized to me as I wrote this blog. Functionality and a good basic build have never been sacrificed severely by the hogs that were, and have continued to be successful over the years. They are simply things that never have, and never will go out of style. And honestly, I couldn’t agree more. A good built piece of livestock, will never take a breeder too far out of production.

I can’t thank the people enough that have taken the time with me over the years to teach me, help me learn about showpig production and allowed me to pursue my dreams in the industry. The coolest thing about showpigs is, everyone has their personal preferences and types and kinds that they like, and thats what gives so much product differentiation in the showpig market.



Headshot 2My name is Jared Lamle and I am a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in Ag Science, with a focus on Ag Business. I’m from Columbia City, Indiana and have had the opportunity to judge on competitive livestock judging teams in Columbia City, at Illinois Central College and just wrapped up my career at WIU. I look forward to a career in the animal agriculture sector with hopes of still being able to raise my own livestock in the future. I thank you for taking the time to read through my blog, and I hope it provided some sort of value to you!






The Places You’ll go with the Western Illinois University Livestock Judging Team.

When you join the judging team at WIU you don’t just become another member of a team or the product of another system, you become party of a family. A group of your peers that you spend the next year with not only learning about livestock evaluation and industry trends but also learning about one another, learning about yourself and where you want to be within the industry or how you want to leave an impact. The individuals that get on the van for the first time will become lifelong friends that share memories you will carry for the rest of your life.

Now none of this was known to me when I showed up in Macomb the fall of 2015 and became part of a storied program. Though growing up I was fortunate enough to have the ability to show livestock at a competitive level and reach success, but never once did the thought of livestock judging  cross my mind till that first day attending the livestock evaluation course with Dr. Mark Hoge. That day many topics were discussed from individuals summer activities to what the senior members of the judging team will be doing in preparation for The National Barrow Show and the rest of the fall as they near the end of the time with the team. For the juniors their journey has just begun, as they are turned loose to prepare hogs for the truck load contest at The National Barrow Show. For me as the “new kid” it was my first time meeting all the other transfer students from Black Hawk East, Lakeland Community College, and Lincoln Land Community College as I was the only one who had not attended a junior college.

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Maxwell Street Facebook

I did not take long into winter workout for a group of strangers to become a close group of friends, for when you stuff 11 students in a 15 passenger van you have no choice but to. As we travel across the country making industry connections, evaluating the livestock that reached the highest qualities, the people who start out as strangers become your best friends. Many of my teammates had experiences judging from their previous schools but for me this was the first time I had ever given a set of reasons in my life, and I’ll tell you the first few times were pretty rough for me. What made this experience in life most beneficial for me was this group of people who I had only met a few months ago want to see me improve and better my skill as an evaluator and grow as a person.

From the yards in Denver to the green shavings of Louisville, the National Barrow Show to the shores of Galveston we made memories as a family that I would never trade. We never took it easy, we were always hammer down no matter what we did, if it was sorting stock in a feed lot somewhere in Nebraska or on the streets of Kansas City, I enjoyed every minute spent with this group of people I am able to call my friends and I thank them for that. Image may contain: 4 people

Maxwell Stret Facebook

They say your make your best friends in college. If you would have told me that before we got in the van I don’t know if I would believe you, but the moment you have to get in for  the final time you realize that it is the most real thing you have been told. I can say I was lucky enough to be one of those who got to spend a year driving the gravel back roads of  this great nation in a white van bound for some workout or a judging contest running on little sleep and a shared passion for livestock.

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Hello readers! My name is Max Street and I am a senior at Western Illinois University.  I will be graduating in May with a major in Agricultural Business, and was a member of the livestock judging team. I grew up in Helenville, WI, where I grew up on a family farm where we raised and showed livestock competitively.  Agriculture has always been a very important part of my life and it has instilled qualities in me that I hope one day to be able to pass on to my children and the younger generations. Agriculture is my passion in life, it’s what I love to do, and hopefully this blog represents that! Thank you!




Agriculture Production Differences from Maryland to the Mississippi

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At the discretion of the land

If a person were to get into a vehicle and start driving with a starting point at Ocean City, Maryland and start driving west, there would be many different observations made when traveling. One of the more obvious observations is the lay of the land. On the very east coast, the land is relatively flat. Then, when heading west the mountains start to become more apparent. Once one is over the mountains and into the central portion of Ohio, it seems to get flat again. From there it only seems to get flatter!

Another observation that can be made from Maryland to the Mississippi River is the agricultural demographic. There is produce, cereal grains, livestock, and seafood produced on the far east. Cereal grains, hay, and livestock become more of the top commodities produced when headed to the Midwest. I grew up in a town called Woodbine, Maryland. As a kid, I travel many times into the Midwest, mainly due to livestock shows. While driving the countless miles to and from the Midwest, many observations were made about the agriculture diversity that was involved between Maryland and Illinois.


To start with Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay contributes to over 50% of the blue crab harvest in the United States. In Maryland alone, the seafood industry brings in over $600 million in annual income for the states economy. Commercial landings of seafood have averaged almost 57 million pounds in the past 15 years. Maryland Blue Crabs and oysters are among the crowd favorite when consuming seafood within the state.

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photo credit: The Crab Depot

Now Maryland isn’t known for just the seafood. Other agricultural industries in Maryland include the equine, poultry, beef, dairy, produce, hog, and cereal grain industries. Last year, there was an average of 164 bushels of corn harvested per acre, 40 bushels of soybeans per acre, 64 bushels of winter wheat per acre, and 69 bushels of barely harvested per acre. There was over 20 thousand pounds of milk produced per dairy cow annually last year also. will tell us that there are more horses per square mile in Maryland than any other state in the nation! The Preakness Stakes is a highlight event in the horse industry that the state of Maryland hosts. will also tell  us that “in 2015, Maryland ranked ninth among states in the number of broilers, or chickens raised”, what do all of these statistics mean one may ask? The numbers show how diversified the state of Maryland really is. There is not one industry that is of major focus, but there are many industries that really make Maryland agriculture and make Maryland so proud of what they produce.


Now unfortunately for some, fresh seafood is non existent in the state of Illinois as it is in Maryland. Grain and livestock production is of a much larger scale though. On average there can be one cow/calf pair ran on about two and a half graze-able acres in Illinois. There are some parts of the state that 300 bushel an acre corn harvest is normal. At one point in time, Henry County, Illinois was known as the hog capital of the world because there were more hogs per square mile then there was at anywhere else. Now with the rise of new technology and different production practices, that is no longer the case, but there is still an extreme amount of livestock and grain production in Illinois when compared to Maryland. A very simple observation can be made by the soil color differences between the two states. On well maintained and highly productive Illinois ground, there is a very dark, rich, black dirt that covers the land. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois farmland covers nearly 75% of the states total land area. Illinois Department of Agriculture also states that exports from Illinois account for 6 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports. So even though Illinois may not host one of the largest race horse events in the country or have the delicious seafood readily at hand, the state is extremely important when pertaining to American agriculture.

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photo credit: Illinois Pork Producers

From Maryland to the Mississippi River, there are all different kinds of agricultural practices in place. From getting on a boat every morning in the Chesapeake Bay to go harvest that days catch of seafood, to getting in a combine to harvest 300 bushels of corn an acre on the rich black dirt of Illinois, and everyone between,  there’s a purpose behind everyone’s efforts. The purpose stands behind the red, white, and blue. The purpose is, American Agriculture!

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My name is Brandon Gruber and I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University. I’m originally from Woodbine, Maryland, where I grew up raising hogs and was very active in 4-H and other national junior livestock associations. I am currently employed at Minnaert Show Cattle of Atkinson, Illinois, and now call Annawan, Illinois, home where I plan on building a competitive showpig sow herd and stay diversified within multiple species at the completion of my time here at WIU.


There is No “I” in Team


Growing up on the farm, I always knew I was different. I drew pictures in class of cows having babies, wrote stories about helping my dad haul manure, and explained in detail to the other kids about where that lunchroom cheeseburger came from. Oh my poor elementary school teachers trying to understand what type of child my parents were raising. Yet that’s just it, growing up in agriculture or more simply on a farm, we are different. Not in how we look, how we dress (unless it is our dirty work clothes), or how we act, but it runs much deeper in the lifestyle we live.


It was always hard to explain to my high school best friends that no I could not come over at 7 pm to eat supper and hang out. I tried every excuse in the book at first, but then, I started to realize that I was proud of what I was doing. 7 in the evening was when I started rinsing heifers. They could not be turned out until at least 9 pm when the sun went down. Yes I could make the late night bonfires but I was always the first to go home, because there was a to-do list with my name at the top for tomorrow. From hauling hay, to mowing the grass, to running seed around to help dad in the fields, there was never a shortage of work. Being 21 now, I enjoy social events just as much as any other student, but there is not a free weekend I have spent at school because there are too many jobs at home that need to get done and it is not only a family affair, but a team effort.


Collegiate Livestock Judging, attending national livestock shows, and merely attending three full years of college in the agriculture divisions at both Lake Land Junior College and Western Illinois University, have shown me how close the agriculture community is. I became very good friends with a girl at LLC whose dad happened to go there some 30 years previous with my dad. One of my dad’s former teachers was a substitute professor and allowed me the opportunity to work on his cattle. Most recently, we had a guest speaker in my agronomy class who is a professor at Mississippi State. He and Dr. Bernards, my professor, knew each other when they both were getting their masters, one at Purdue and one at Michigan State. Now basic geography tells us, these schools are not close together, but conferences brought them both together as they had similar interests, and to this day they bounce ideas and information off of one another.

Many professions claim to be very close through constantly seeing similar patients, meetings or seminars that they see each other once a month at, or maybe they talk every day at the office. Agriculture though runs much deeper than just a conversation. The passion it takes to put everything you have on the line on a daily basis is something anyone outside the industry may never understand. It takes long days, sleepless nights, and constantly praying mother nature and the markets go in your favor to be able to have the funding needed to buy the newer piece of equipment, that next semi load of livestock, or another 100 acres of land to help next year be even more prosperous.

The industry is not just those farmers and ranchers out in the fields. It includes the insurance agent that helps fund the purchase of a year’s worth of seed. The trucker who hauls milk to and from the farms to be processed. All the way to the grain elevator in charge of storing and purchasing the end products. There is trust and honesty needed in these relationships to keep an oiled running machine that is constantly running.

We in agriculture need to remember to all stand together. As an industry we have been more and more in the spotlight and not for the positive reasons we should be. Many are criticizing the way things are done because they believe false videos, incomplete information, and the newest trends that make people become highly opposed to what agriculture is doing in the ways of trying to feed, clothe, and allow variety to a constantly growing world. Standing together as agriculture enthusiasts to highlight the truth on one of the closest and most important industries that exists, (we do feed people more than three times per day), is a necessity to speak out on our behalf.

The recent wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres, homes, and took the lives of many livestock and humans, have brought out the best in ag. From sending fencing supplies, precious hay bales, or sending man power to help get the challenging jobs done, we will always rise above. It is a team effort to pull through and move ahead even through hard times. In agriculture, you are never truly alone because your neighbors are always there and ready to help. There is never a day to rest, feel sorry for ourselves, or try to solve the world’s problems, but there is always time to be thankful, feel blessed, and appreciate the many opportunities, close relationships, and people agriculture brings together.

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My name is Olivia Claire and I am currently a junior at Western Illinois University. I have a passion for showing cattle, livestock judging, and anything to do with working outside. This farm girl just so happens to also be a fair queen promoting agriculture! I attended Lake Land College where I received my Associates in Science. I now am working towards a Bachelors in Agriculture Science with a minor in Agronomy, Agriculture Business, and Animal Science. It is truly an honor and great experience being part of Leatherneck Nation!


How the sheep industry has helped me

The sheep industry is something that runs deep in my blood, two generations on both sides of my family to be exact. It has been what I have grown up with and all that I have known for as long as I could remember. It all started in a small town in Ohio where my family I and raised around 100 registered Hampshire and Rambouillet breeding sheep. Now I am co-owner of HC Show Stock where we run around 85 Southdown and crossbred sheep. As a young kid, I spent most of my time in the barn or on the road traveling to shows all over the country to show competitively, and to this day that hasn’t changed. It amazes me how the sheep industry has had a direct impact on the person I am today and the tendencies and connections I have gained from it is what will allow me to be successful in life. If I were to name off all that I have gained from being involved with the sheep then it would take all day so I am going to focus on the main three: mentors, opportunities, and family.

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Photo from Marjie Canfield

1. Mentors to most kids are athletes or famous people. For me it was industry leaders and I was lucky enough to live close to Mike Stitzlein. Mike is the owner of Stitzlein club lambs and he runs around 300 ewes and has been a family friend since we started showing sheep. He has played a huge role in my success as an exhibitor as well as young producer looking to start a flock and pursue a dream. The valuable knowledge Mike has shared with me I will remember forever and apply it to day to day sheep production. If you’re new to the sheep industry and looking to get started I highly recommend searching out an industry leader to see if they will take you under their wing.

2. The opportunities that I have gained from the sheep industry have without a doubt led me to where I am today. My junior and senior year of high school I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for Sloan Club Lambs out of Shelby, Ohio. The first winter we lambed out around 125 ewes and that was the best experience I could have asked for. In my opinion hands on experience is best and the more ewes I could lamb out the better sheep producer I could become. Sloan’s also played a huge role in my success as an exhibitor and it was through them that I got to meet Craig Beckmier who would later become my livestock judging coach at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois. I attended Lincoln Land for two years where I received my degree in Ag Business and was a member of the nationally competitive livestock team. Over these two years I spent a lot of time and rode many miles with Craig and have made many memories and became a better evaluator. After leaving Lincoln Land in the spring of 2015 I went on to attend Western Illinois University to get my Bachelors in Ag Business and compete on the judging team under Mark Hoge. The experiences and knowledge I have gained from Mark and Western Illinois will last a lifetime. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to learn from two of the most sought out judges in the nation who without a doubt focus on winning judging contests but more importantly making sure you can evaluate more than just four animals in a ring and go on and be viable within an industry.

3. The most valuable asset the sheep industry has given me is a family and more than just blood relation. At a young age I went through the tragedy of losing my father and that was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life. Luckily the people I have met through showing and raising sheep, as well as my immediate family, were there for me and helped me get through that difficult time. I am truly spoiled with the amount of close friends that I have gained over the years and I know that if I were stranded somewhere alongside the road or was in a bad spot and needed help, I have a long list of people I could call all over the country. That’s the greatest thing about all livestock industries the people you get to meet and the friendships you gain that will truly last a life time.

No words will ever describe how thankful I am for being raised in the sheep industry. It has made me into the person I am today and it will continue to play a big role in the success I hope to have in my life. I hope to give back to the youth just as the people listed above have done for me. As you have read this I’m sure you can tell my experience’s have been mainly associated with sheep, however I hope you know mentors, opportunities, and family are abundant in every aspect of the livestock industry.

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Photo from Maurer Photography

Hello, I am Adam Heffelfinger and I am a senior at Western Illinois Univeristy. I’m originally from Ashland, Ohio, where I grew up raising and showing sheep. I am an active member of the Hoof ‘n’ Horn Club and also a member of the Livestock Judging team.


5 Tips for Marketing and Photographing Livestock

This time of year is a very exciting season for livestock producers.  Breeding decisions that were made months ago are finally paying off.  With that excitement comes possibly the most challenging portion.  Marketing and photoing.  Many people dread this activity, but when properly utilized it can be the difference in selling them high or sending them to the sale barn.

  1. Brand Management –  This is something that starts long before breeding season. Building a brand can be challenging.  Adam Crouch, a marketing specialist for Sunglo Feeds, had a few tips and tricks for branding.  He said that you should always make sure that your brand matches who you are marketing to. This means that it should be appealing and professional. At the same time, if you are marketing livestock make sure the color scheme and design will match what livestock producers want.  Your brand should be clean, easy to identify and have a clear message.  For example, check out how Sunglo has branded their products.sunglo
  2. Promotion – This step is all about establishing your brand.  Crouch went on to say that it is important to put your brand everywhere. Sweatshirts, hats, t-shirts, signs, and profile pictures are all great places to advertise.  People are constantly wearing clothes so utilize them as walking billboards.
  3. Preparation – This is a bit more of the brass tacks of marketing and picturing.  Across species this step will often vary.  Regardless, it is important to train your livestock so that it is not a foreign concept for them to be prepared to take an incredible picture.  This includes washing and making sure skin and hair are near show day ready.  You can use sweets to make sure pigs are familiar with tools you will use to picture.  Ben Bobell of Bobell Farms suggest washing at least every other day and hanging towels with marshmallow cream so pigs are used to chewing on things that you could use to picture.  With sheep it is important that they are trained to brace and drive and that their legs are blown out and well groomed.
  4. Picturing – The day everyone dreads is here!!!  Time to picture livestock, some people believe that this is the worst part of selling livestock.  A recent alum, David Korb, went as far to say that his “personal sanity and safety could be harmed through picturing pigs.”  The fact that animals aren’t always cooperative, and the patience it takes to get the livestock looking their best are what makes this activity so despicable.  That being said, with the right preparation, this day can go rather smoothly.  According to James Thompson, a WIU alum who now owns Thompson Livestock, “Lighting is the most important aspect of livestock photography.”  Setting up an appropriate background and getting the right lighting can take your livestock photography from zero to hero.  Thompson went on to say that natural lighting is best but you can ruin good pictures by having too much sunlight or too overcast of sky.  Angles also play a key role.  In pictures, livestock often look flat and narrow from a direct side profile.  If you can picture at a slight 3/4 angle,  you will maximize your customers ability to read the livestock.  Picturing can be a long tiring process, but with the right preparation you can make the process a snap.
    A sheep that sold in Thompson Livestock’s Spring sale last March. You can see an attractive background, yet the angle still allows you to read the sheep.  This wether went on to be a class winner at the Iowa State Fair.

    Here’s a picture of a Yorkshire barrow that was taken at Bobell Farms.  He is clean, well presented, and the picture was taken at an angle that allows the viewer to see the pig has shape and dimension.
  5. Sharing – This is the last step but it may be the most important.  Taking pictures is awesome, but if no one see’s them they are useless.  Promote. Promote. Promote.  Put the pictures on Facebook.  Share. Share. Share. Make entertaining write-ups that people want to read.  Take pictures and put them out the interweb so people want to come look at your livestock!!

While these are not in a particular order for how they should go, they are essential steps in insuring that people know about the livestock that you will be marketing.  It is important to be honest and make sure to use your resources to develop these activities!

Will Taylor is student at Western Illinois University.  He is active in the Hoof ‘n’ Club, a member of the Livestock Judging Team, and enjoys working at the school farm.

To learn more about Western Illinois University and the livestock brand that we are building, check out our Facebook page. Leatherneck Livestock.