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inside the ring

Greg Ahart

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I grew up on my family’s sheep and cattle ranch in Northern California, and showed sheep in 4-H. Today, besides running about 120 head of black faced wether dam ewes (both registered Suffolks as well as crossbreds), I have also had the pleasure of working with my wife Mary’s family and their Suffolk flock for over 25 years.

Professionally, I’ve worked for Superior Farms for 22 years, which is the largest American lamb harvester/processor/distributor in the US. Over those 22 years I have worked in many portions of the organization, including quality control, fabrication (carcass deconstruction), General Manager of the California facility, producer relations, and sales and marketing. Currently, I serve as the Vice President of Sales.

Additionally, I currently serve as a Board Member on the American Lamb Board, and President of the California Suffolk and Hampshire Sheep Breeders Association. I am also Past President of the California Wool Growers Association, and Past Chairman of the American Sheep and Goat Center. All aspects of my life have always had sheep and sheep industry involvement.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows? What are you most looking forward to about judging NAILE?
With junior shows, it’s working with kids. If there are good sheep to look at, that is an added bonus; but in reality those kids are the future as well as future voices of agriculture. Anyone who grew up in the youth programs needs to pay it forward and make time to help and give back. With open shows, it is fun to look at good livestock, especially some that I don’t get to see or handle all that often.

As far as judging at the NAILE, I’m looking forward to handling more good slick sheared Suffolks than anyone else in the barn will get to do that day. This is THE Suffolk show of the year, and much of the future genetics of the Suffolk breed will be in front of me to evaluate that day. What isn’t there to look forward to?

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
I like function, usefulness, and structural correctness. What is the application for the sheep I will be evaluating? The heyday of the Suffolk breed was built on their commercial industry application. They sired, and still continue to sire, the bulk of commercial lambs that our industry processes annually. They need to be sheep that can gain/grow quickly, remain correct and useful in their kind and design, and survive.

What is your favorite sheep that you've either judged or shown?
I had a wether dam who was the Supreme Champion ewe at the California State Fair Open Show in 2009. What made it special was that after Leonard Bianchi passed away, his wife Karen gave me a couple of his favorite brood ewes, one of them being Bianchi 748. My ewe who won that year was one of her daughters, and it made the win a very emotional and sentimental moment for me.

What person/people influenced or helped to shape your view on what an ideal sheep should possess?
This is fun and allows me to reminisce. I’ve had a fantastic mix of people to influence me over the years. Leonard Bianchi took me under his wing while I was in college. He was a great man, and true livestock breeder. One of my fondest memories was helping show his first Supreme Champion Wether Sire Ram at Sedalia in 1997 (and then again in 1998 and 2000). Ben Beam always quietly preached the concept of you chased extremes in breeding pieces but optimals in true evaluation. Dana Van Liew who was my judging team coach and ran the sheep unit at UC Davis while I was there talked about usefulness and application. Each breed has a purpose, and we lose that purpose if all we do is cross breed. Just like we can’t make an oak tree a redwood, we can’t make a Suffolk a Finn. Remember what each breed is supposed to do. My father in law, Bob Paasch, has always been fun to talk sheep with, especially at the commercial ram sales. Believe in your product and nurture your relationships (usually with a good drink!). He has always believed that happy customers were repeat customers.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Passionate

What is one thing that you cannot leave the house without?
Lots of coffee and my cell phone.

If you could travel to anywhere on earth, where and why?
The pyramids, or Russia in the winter. So much history. Seeing the result of ancient engineering, human strength and commitment in the pyramids in person I would imagine to be awe inspiring. Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to see St. Basil’s cathedral surrounded in snow. Hearing the legend that the Tsar had the architect blinded so he could never recreate the masterpiece elsewhere - I just want to see it. Both of those examples of sacrifice and commitment make me think we shouldn’t whine as much as we do as a culture now….

what is your Most embarrassing moment at a livestock show?
This year at the Arizona State Fair open breeding sheep show. In the class of fine wool natural colored spring ewe lambs, my back completely locked up and went out, I dropped to the ring floor and I think everyone thought I was having a heart attack. I finished the class and picked champion ewe from a chair, they suspended the show for about an hour to give me a chance to try to be able to move again. Later on, as I was hobbling through the Hampshire yearling ewe class, a (later to be named class winning) ewe got loose and mowed me over from behind and I ended up curled up like a sow bug in the shavings. I honestly thought I might have to be carried out on a stretcher. Somehow finished the show and flew home that evening. Amazingly, to my knowledge no pictures of this ever surfaced and I survived. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen again on green shavings! There was also the year I was showing a Donner Trail yearling ram at Sedalia when it was one of those years with the “extra special” weather years. He ended up rearing up and launching himself head first directly into the center of a fan. At the end of that scuffle the fan was banging and clanging, I was laying on the ground, he was on top of me, and I had a chipped front tooth. The best part of that whole experience was that it happened in a time prior to cell phone cameras!

 

 

 

Travis Hoffman

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I was born and raised on a diversified sheep, cattle, and grain operation in South Dakota. Most people know me though my family involvement with registered Corriedale sheep that have won numerous national honors. I received my Bachelor’s Degree from South Dakota State University in Animal Sciences; and a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Meat Sciences from Colorado State University with an emphasis in lamb quality, value, and consumer perception. Now, I am currently employed at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota as the Extension Sheep Specialist for North Dakota and Minnesota and based in Fargo, ND.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows? What are you most looking forward to about judging NAILE?
Living the dream in the green chips, I keep the atmosphere light and entertaining. It is a joy to talk with the youth, and enjoy the experience with a smile. Certainly, I am intrigued by the results of producer’s sheep breeding programs, but for me it is about people.

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
Structural Correctness. I emphasize functional skeletal design, and prefer an extra lap around the ring to place the tight pairs.

What is your favorite sheep that you've either judged or shown?
Trent, Cruz, & Olivia Nichols exhibited “Sweetness,” an impeccable Dorset that was wedged-shaped before it was cool and named Supreme Ewe at 2009 NAILE Jr. Show.

What person/people influenced or helped to shape your view on what an ideal show lamb should possess?
I have been surrounded by many superb mentors. My father, Bruce, helped me as a young stockman, and I attribute my evaluation success to Dr. Kelly Bruns, my South Dakota State University livestock judging team coach. It is a moving industry, and staying current assists in incorporating practicality in the “ideal” sheep.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Passionate

Favorite band/musician?
Josh Abbott Band or Aaron Watson

Favorite sports team?
Minnesota Twins

Most embarrassing moment at a livestock show?
I was judging a sheep show in Spanish Fork, Utah on a gorgeous May morning. Minutes before the show, I jumped over the hog panels between the barn and the ring. I heard a rip and caught my pants on the gate causing a small tear above my knee. The hotel is 20 minutes away, and a mentor of mine Dr. Brett Kaysen is about to judge the swine show. I said to myself, “WWBKD, what would Brett Kaysen do?” Rock on and just sort livestock: Good ones up, and bad ones down!

 

 

 

Dustin Cruit

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I grew up on a 200 head Corriedale farm. My wife and I along with our two children currently have around 80 head of club lamb ewes and help with the family’s Columbia herd which consists of around 25 head.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows? What are you most looking forward to about judging NAILE?
I think the thing I enjoy the most about judging shows is watching people compete and presenting their animal. The thing I look forward to about judging at NAILE is having the opportunity to work with the youth and having them present their animals to me. It is truly an honor. Secondly I love the green shavings. The green shavings in November tends to always bring the elite ones to the ring.

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
I think for me it comes down to structure, movement and the one that is the most balanced in its makeup. If it’s still a coin toss at that point then I look at the extras.

What is your favorite sheep that you've either judged or shown?
I have been blessed with the opportunity to judge tons of great sheep on the breeding side and on the market lamb side so to limit that to one would be a tough one. I think my favorite sheep that I ever showed was a sheep that we called “THE BIG DAWG” - he won a lot for me and was a fun one to feed.

What person/people influenced or helped to shape your view on what an ideal sheep should posess?
The person who has influenced me the most is an easy one for me, it would be my DAD. Although I have had the opportunity to learn from and become friends with many top notch evaluators he’s the one that has always pointed me in the right direction.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Passionate

Who is your favorite musician?
George Strait

What is your favorite sports team?
Nebraska Husker Football and ILLINI Basketball

 

 

Ed Julian

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I'm a redneck hillbilly from southwest Missouri - I raised cattle and hogs in 4H and FFA. I have a BS degree in Animal Science from Missouri State.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows?
Being able to compare the different approaches breeders use to try and reach their ideals.

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
Structural correctness, sound feet and legs, high square docks, extension in fronts, breed type, plus even bold crimped fleeces that carry into the britch.

What is your favorite sheep that you've either judged or shown?
I have judged several that I really liked. Kuykendall's Natural Colored ewe at NAILE, Taylor's Border Leicester ewes at NAILE, Champion Corriedale Ewe from Humphrey at NAILE, Champion White Romney ewe at this year's Big E, plus many more.

Favorite ewe was Reserve Champion Columbia at NAILE 1988 and favorite ram was Supreme Champion Romney Ram at NAILE 2004.

If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be?
I'm cruising Northern Europe after NAILE and looking forward to spending a day at Normandy.

 

 

 

Skip Anderson

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
My involvement in the sheep industry dates back to 1990 when my family started our flock of registered Hampshires that is still in existence today and is known as Baa Baa Acres. Along with our Hampshire flock, I am currently the shepherd at North Dakota State University where I oversee the management and breeding program of a 400 head flock that consists of four breeds of sheep.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows? What are you most looking forward to about Big E?
What I enjoy most about judging sheep shows is the opportunity to see some of the very best sheep in the country and to the chance to see stock from a variety of breeders. As I come back for the second year at the Big E, I look forward to seeing and evaluating sheep from a part of the county that we typically don't see in the Midwest. Each year there is a number of elite animals from elite breeders from the Northeast that are always competitive on the national level and having the chance to sort them at the Big E is exciting and enjoyable. Plus, I'm not going to lie, being in New England and eating some amazing seafood ranks pretty high on my list when I'm at the Big E.

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
When it gets to a close placing, I always break those ties on structural correctness and breed type. I feel that structural correctness forecasts longevity within the individual, and to me, there is nothing better than seeing a sheep that represents that particular breed with ideal type.

What is your favorite sheep that you've either judged or shown?
I have had the opportunity to judge some of very elite sheep over the years. I have had the chance to evaluate a few individuals that have gone on to be named Supreme Champions in Louisville. Those include a Suffolk ewe from Ruby Mountain Sheep Co. in 2014 and Rambouillet ewe from Dew Drop Farms in 2015. I will also admit, there is no greater feeling than being able to shake the hand of an exhibitor on the green chips in Louisville and crown a breed champion at the NAILE.

If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be?
If I could go anywhere on vacation I would love to go to either New Zealand, Australia or the UK to see sheep operations. Now, my wife might put a limit to the number of sheep farms we visit, but I think that would be a dream trip!

 

 

 

Steve Taylor

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I have been raising sheep almost all my life beginning in 4-H with Montadales. I grew up showing sheep on the county fair circuit in Ohio as well as the Ohio State Fair and NAILE. In my spare time, I sheared sheep to be able to have extra spending money. After attending and graduating from meat cutting school in Toledo, I began consulting and fitting sheep professionally for several top breeders across the United States. In 1999, I married my wife Stacy and we started Jadewood Valley Hampshires. After the birth of our daughter Callie in 2005, we added Border Leicesters and today also raise Shropshires and Katahdins. Currently we run 300 brood ewes with our main focus being selling purebred frame seedstock as well as wether type seedstock and market lambs. In addition, we supply lamb for a farm to table market in Pittsburgh. I have been judging livestock for over 25 years and have had the pleasure of judging all across the United States and in Mexico.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows?
The thing I enjoy most about judging shows is the opportunity to travel around the country and see the various animals and breeding programs. It gives a person the chance to see animals they might not otherwise have the chance to see. Also I greatly enjoy the camaraderie between people in the sheep industry. No matter where I have traveled, breeders have been very welcoming and hospitable. Lastly but certainly not least however, is the opportunity to work with the youth in our industry. Anytime, I get a chance to encourage youngsters to continue and/or increase their involvement in the sheep industry I believe it is my responsibility to do so.

When it gets down to the top enders, what do you sort on/what traits do you value most?
When evaluating livestock I am very critical on structure and movement. Any animal no matter the species needs to be sound and be able to move about the ring very free and easily. Also that animal needs to be able to hold itself together while in motion. I look for an animal that runs up hill and has a lot of showring presence. An eye appealing, complete animal that can get out and go will always do well in the ring when I am judging.

What is your favorite sheep that you have either shown or judged?
I have been blessed with the opportunity to have been involved with so many wonderful sheep in my career. If I had to choose one, it would have to be a Suffolk ewe named “High Tower”. There was just something special about this female from the time she was born at Hardcash Suffolks in New Philadelphia, Ohio. I had a great relationship with High Tower and had the privilege to raise and show this female her entire career. As a yearling ewe, she was named Champion Ewe at the 1992 Ohio Suffolk Sale where she was purchased by another breeder that I worked and showed for. Continuing her career, she won the All-American Junior Suffolk show before going to NAILE where she was Champion ewe and Supreme Ewe Overall. Her career didn’t stop there however as she continued to impress in the lambing barn raising most notably a ewe lamb named “Penthouse” that sold to Tad Thompson of Indiana.

If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be?
It would have to be England and New Zealand. I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to see the differences in the way they raise sheep as compared to the way we do in the United States. When I was growing up, my family hosted an exchange student from England and I found the stories he told extremely fascinating. To be able to experience these differences first hand would be a great learning tool for any sheep breeder.

 

 

 

Jeff Held

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
Over 40 years ago the Held’s 4-J’s Hampshire flock was created along with my two brothers and a sister at Oakfield, WI. By the late 1980’s the ownership shifted to my wife Mary and I with the flock renamed Held’s Hampshires. In 1990 I accepted the faculty sheep extension position at South Dakota State University with current responsibilities including extension, teaching and research programming. The flock moved with us to South Dakota and later our twin boys added a small flock of Southdowns. During the past 30 years I’ve had the opportunity to judge numerous youth and open sheep shows across the country, ranging from county fairs to NAILE open shows.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows?
In my opinion the focus and responsibilities related to judging is dependent on the type of show, youth or open show. In the youth shows the enjoyment for me is observing young people having a positive experience during the exhibition process, it should be FUN!! I expect my role includes to make the youth exhibitors feel comfortable while in the showring. On the other hand with open shows it’s a privilege to be given the responsibility to focus on evaluating the top end individuals a breed has to offer….it can’t get any better than that!!!

What is your biggest pet peeve in the show ring?
Great question!! Answer: If the show ring is too small resulting in the head to tail view line up configured in a circle rather than a straight line. As a judge it is more challenging to evaluate a class of sheep when you are surrounded with sheep.

What are you most looking forward to about judging the
All-American?

Rather simple! Seeing the shinning smiles of the hundreds of youth that are enjoying the opportunity to take part in the “All-American” experience!

What is your favorite show, and why?
Whether it’s a small local show or a major big time event like the All-American or an open show at NAILE….. they are all special! The common thread is people engaged in sheep exhibition, in many cases these are family activities that provide great joy for years.

If you could go see anyone in concert, who would it be?
From a past era – Styx

 

 

 


What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I grew up raising and showing Suffolks, we showed at many shows in the upper midwest and sent a few head to Louisville over the years! I also helped Dew Drop Farms show and trim for a number of years. My Dad brought me to many shows and sales when I was younger and it has stuck with me to get where I am today. Currently my family shows market lambs, pigs, and cattle. That leaves me just enough time to judge a few shows, with nothing better than a good ol' breeding sheep show.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows?
I enjoy evaluating good stock that are presented well! It is an adrenaline rush when you find one you really like. But the thing that makes all shows good is the "livestock family."

What is your biggest pet peeve in the show ring?
My pet peeve is the exhibitors that are always late to the ring so they can get in one spot of the ring. I do understand that sometimes a person is farther from the ring but...

What are you most looking forward to about judging the
All-American?

The kids and the quality of sheep! Plus meeting many new people who have not heard of me before.

What is your favorite show, and why?
That's a tough one: Louisville is the "super bowl," Sedalia is a great event, MN State Fair is fun minus all the people... but sometimes the good old county fair is the best!!!

If you could go see anyone in concert, who would it be?
Not much of a concert person, would have to say Pentatonix cause the wife likes them! But Katherine said I had to pick somebody, so I would say Blackhawk.

 

 

 


What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I am a fourth generation shepherd. My great grandfather raised Southdowns and Dorsets then both sets of my grandparents raised Corriedales. When I was younger we had Dorsets, Southdowns, and Corriedales. When I was eight my parents bought me my first Natural Coloreds and soon after we sold the Dorsets and the Southdowns followed. I currently serve on the American Corriedale Association board and am the Regional President of the NCWGA.

What do you enjoy most about judging shows?
There are two things I really enjoy about judging. One is getting to work with the youth. They are the future of the industry and I really enjoy seeing the passion the kids have for showing while still having fun. The second is getting to go through all the sheep. I've always enjoyed evaluating livestock whether it be in a pasture or in the showring.

What is your biggest pet peeve in the show ring?
Showmen that don't try to control their animal so you can handle it.

What are you most looking forward to about judging the
All-American?

Besides getting to evaluate the livestock and work with the kids, I'm looking forward to seeing the facility. Sounds like a great place.

What is your favorite show, and why?
NAILE will always be my favorite. The atmosphere around those green shavings is unrivaled to me. You can visit with all the people you only see a few times a year and compete with the best in the nation.

If you could go see anyone in concert, who would it be?
The king George Strait!

 

 

 

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