Iowa State University 2012 Livestock Judging Team, front row (l to r) Troy Sloan, Cameron, Mo.; Tyler Stutsman, Hills, Iowa; Colby Taber, Cameron, Ill.; Chelsey Branderhorst, Prairie City, Iowa; Derek Brown, New Providence, Iowa; Chris Sievers, Albert City, Iowa. 2nd Row: Jon DeClerck (coach), Harrison Frey, Earlham, Iowa; Adam Darrington, Underwood, Iowa. 3rd Row: Hunter Shoemaker, London, Ohio and Kyle Greiman, Gardner, Iowa.
Iowa State University 2012 Livestock Judging Team, front row (l to r) Troy Sloan, Cameron, Mo.; Tyler Stutsman, Hills, Iowa; Colby Taber, Cameron, Ill.; Chelsey Branderhorst, Prairie City, Iowa; Derek Brown, New Providence, Iowa; Chris Sievers, Albert City, Iowa. 2nd Row: Jon DeClerck (coach), Harrison Frey, Earlham, Iowa; Adam Darrington, Underwood, Iowa. 3rd Row: Hunter Shoemaker, London, Ohio and Kyle Greiman, Gardner, Iowa.
This summer numerous 4-H and FFA youth took part in judging contests at county and state fairs. Those type of events are often stepping stones for youth who later judge at the college level.
The website, Livestockjudging.com, has several of the regional schools listed in it's Power Rankings of national collegiate livestock judging teams. Iowa State University is 3rd; Colorado State University 4th, and South Dakota State University 12th.
These teams have at least 9 months of judging under their belts and the biggest competition of the year - the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky - is coming up Nov. 12.

South Dakota State University Jackrabbits
Coaching the SDSU team is Matt Johnson who grew up in Northwest Iowa near Sioux Center on a cow/calf operation that focused primarily on the sale of show cattle. He showed 4-H cattle, sheep, and swine at the local, state, and national level.
As a student at SDSU in 2007 he began judging livestock and was part of a team that ended up 9th nationally. He became coach for the SDSU team in January of 2012.
He says the current SDSU team is made up of extremely high quality individuals. Most of them are from cattle backgrounds while one, Jay Wolff has a sheep and swine background. All are products of the national 4-H and FFA systems.
"This team is extremely special as I truly believe they are one of the most talented groups of kids to come through the SDSU judging program in a long time, so we are pushing ourselves extremely hard to meet our goals within the next month," he says.
On South Dakota's 2012 judging team is Jared Werning of Parkston, S.D.; Taylor Geppert, Kimball, S.D.; Colby Olson, Kimball, S.D.; Tosha Opheim, Selby, S.D.; Alex Jung, Ipswich, S.D.; Grant Raml, Watertown, S.D.; Zeb Husted, Highmore, S.D.; Weston Geppert, Mitchell, S.D.; Jay Wolff, Beardsley, Minn. and Josh Twedt from Canton, S.D.
Those on the team started in the introductory to Livestock Judging class in the fall of 2011. Their first contest was at the National Western Stock Show in Denver this past January and they will finish in November in Louisville, Ky.
Johnson says the season has gone really well for the team thus far. They started the year in Denver placing 7th overall in the Carload contest and then went on to Sioux Falls were they were given 4th high team overall. The team had four individuals make the top 15 in placings at the Iowa Beef Expo and 3rd high team in placings at the Nebraska Cattlemen's Classic, both in February. This fall the team placed in the top ten at both Butler and Wichita contests and the 5th overall team at Nebraska's AKSARBEN and 3rd in Swine.
"As far as being ranked 12th nationally, we are definitely happy to be ahead of numerous other teams but are not satisfied. We feel we have far more talent and have beaten teams ranked ahead of us. This group of kids is extremely competitive and driven to be successful. With every day that goes by we feel we are narrowing the gap between us, and the teams preceding us, " says Johnson. "We are striving towards the National Contest in Louisville and if we get beat it won't be because of lack of effort that's for sure."
Tosha Opheim, 21 and a senior at SDSU, says the team is prepping all they can.
Opheim's father was a member of an earlier SDSU livestock team. She herself took part in cattle shows and judging events as a youth. It wasn't her intent to be on a college judging team, but when she took part in a mock contest in 2011 . . . she was hooked.
Now she is taking part in practices three days a week, extra oral reasons as time allows, and Saturday practices as well. The team is also spending free time immersing themselves in livestock sale catalogs and online information.
Even with all the practice Opheim says the team's natural instinct and ag background helps them excel. "Most of us on the team knew each other because we competed against each other in shows and judging competitions. We also have similar farm backgrounds. If we get into a situation where we may not know the exact answer, we all can fall back on what we know - and go with our natural instinct."
Johnson says the team's competition varies from contest to contest. They obviously like to beat neighboring state schools, but he notes Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have been extremely competitive and will be a challenge in upcoming Kansas City and Louisville.

Iowa State University Cyclones
Coaching Iowa State University is Jon DeClerck who has spent that last 10 years judging or coaching with a collegiate level livestock team. He was raised in Illinois on a typical Midwest farm that raised cattle and swine. DeClerck took part in showing events as a youth and started college at Black Hawk East, judging livestock for the college before moving to Texas A&M. He finished his undergrad in Texas and along the way helped capture national championship titles for the judging teams. He then went on to Texas Tech where he coached the 2008 national team. In 2010 he arrived in Iowa ready to develop a winning judging team record for the university.
"The Midwest is home to some of the best ag students in the country. I knew I could start a judging program that could be really competitive," says DeClerck. "Coaching is a young man's game. I felt like it was the right time to coach because I don't have a wife and kids to focus on. I can invest my time and myself into the program."
And he has. He has taken the current ISU team and helped them become one of the leading judging teams in the nation. In addition he has helped establish judging camps for 4-H and FFAers to prep them for judging life at ISU when they are of age.
Making up the Iowa State University team this year is: Troy Sloan, Cameron, Mo.; Tyler Stutsman, Hills, Iowa; Hunter Shoemaker, London, Ohio; Colby Taber, Cameron, Ill.; Harrison Frey, Earlham, Iowa; Adam Darrington, Underwood, Iowa; Chelsey Branderhorst, Prairie City, Iowa; Kyle Greiman, Gardner, Iowa and Derek Brown, New Providence, Iowa.
The team received 3rd in Denver at NWSS, took both the Sioux Empire and Iowa Beef Expo competitions, placed 5th in Houston, 3rd at the National Barrow Show and won the recent AKSARBEN.
"For us, our strong point has been oral reasons. We have always been a team that scores well in reasons because the students are knowledgeable, conversational and just fun to listen to," says DeClerck. "Part of that is the kids have livestock backgrounds - showing and raising them - and are passionate about livestock. It's something they really enjoy and coaching is so much easier when your students are passionate about what they do."
He also says the livestock judging team members are not only learning how to evaluate livestock, but developing life skills. Regardless of what career path they take, he says they are learning time management, decision making and communications skills that can be carried forward.
Like SDSU, Iowa team members are gunning to place in the top at Louisville in November. They are holding practices during the week and weekends and giving oral reason around their class schedules.
"It's nice that a website has recognized our team's efforts," says DeClerck in response to Livestockjudging.com having the team ranked 3rd in the nation. "But really for us, it's all about Louisville. We have some of the most premiere students prepping to win."