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Farm tour prepares 4-H’ers for livestock judging

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Under Johnston County Cooperative Extension livestock agent Dan Wells’ leadership, six Johnston County 4-H Club members traveled to Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania over the summer for a weeklong livestock judging study tour to prepare for the North Carolina 4-H livestock judging contest held the week after the trip.

Wells said the Johnston County 4-H livestock judging program has offered a trip to team members who meet participation requirements each year since 2013 with previous trips to Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and Warner, Oklahoma.

Wells said participants became eligible for the July trip by participating in a minimum of six practice days and three livestock judging contests in 2018.

The group visited six farms over the course of the week looking at classes of beef cattle, sheep, goats and hogs and learning from the farm owners. They also visited the Washington County Ag Expo & Fair in Sharpsburg, Maryland,. to observe the market hog show.

Participants ranged in age from 12 to 17 and included Isabel Fricke of Middlesex, Erin Burns of Clayton, Daisy Brown of Smithfield, Kimsey Bagley of Benson and Hattie Jo Powell and Anna Claire Wells of Four Oaks.

Wells said colleagues in other states recommended sites to visit and organizers scouted some farms online.

“If a farm seemed to be interested in recognizing young people who exhibit their animals, we contacted them online, explained what we were doing and asked if they were interested in having us come by for a workout,” said Wells. “Better than half the time, that led to a yes.

Wells said the group didn’t spend its entire time during the trip judging livestock.

“For about half of these kids and my wife, it was their first trip to Pennsylvania, so we worked in an hour or so at the Hershey factory, an evening riding through Amish country and a morning at the Gettysburg battlefield,” said Wells. “We also made sure there was an hour or so of pool time at the hotel each evening, which really helped because it was so hot the entire week.”

Wells said one of the most interesting farms the group visited was at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, a retirement community owned by the Masons with about 400 acres of crop and pasture land.

“This farm had a feedlot and feeds out over 500 head of beef cattle each year to market beef to restaurants throughout the Northeast,” he said. “However, most of the farms we visited were family operations that market purebred seed stock and show animals to other farms and youth livestock exhibitors.”

Wells said the annual study tour is designed to get some of the club’s most dedicated team members into a new setting and focus on livestock judging right before the North Carolina 4-H livestock judging contest.

“While we have all those animals here in North Carolina, there are some experiences we cannot have here such as judging beef cattle in a feedlot setting,” said Wells. “Another example is that we judged a class of boar hogs at a farm in Maryland. While there are many hogs here, there are not a lot of boars that you can judge, so judging a class of boars is the type of experience these kids might have if they judge on a collegiate level or even professionally later in life.”

“This was my first time on the judging trip and it was so much fun. It was very cool to see a feedlot and the Gettysburg battlefield,” said Isabel Fricke, a Corinth Holders High School senior. “I also really improved my livestock judging skills.”

At the state 4-H judging contest held at N.C. State University on July 26, the Johnston County 4-H judging team placed first in the intermediate age division and second in the senior age division.