Montana FFA offered poultry judging for the first time during the annual John Deere Ag Expo, held in Bozeman in November of 2019. The new career development event (CDE) was met with rave reviews and it was reported the kids really enjoyed the new contest. Building on that momentum, poultry judging will again be offered as a youth contest as part of the MAGIE.

Poultry judging will be open to all youth grades 7-12 who are enrolled in either 4-H or FFA. The contest will be held on Friday, Jan. 17, at Cascade High School. Check in will be at 3:15 p.m., with the contest slated to begin at 3:30 p.m. Joel King, FFA advisor at Grass Range High School, will act as the contest superintendent.

King spent nearly 30 years as an FFA Advisor down in Texas where poultry production is a prominent faction of the ag industry. Not only is poultry judging a popular CDE in Texas, but often FFA students raise poultry in some form for their supervised agriculture experience. When a career change found King teaching agriculture education in the small community of Grass Range, he felt poultry judging could be successful in Montana too.

“I think poultry judging gives kids another outlet. The more we have, the more opportunities for the kids,” King pointed out.

The contest is structured similarly to any other evaluation CDE offered through FFA, with several different classes held within the event. In one aspect of the competition, students must evaluate live poultry, both broiler and laying hens, judging them on conformation. Students then give an oral set of reasons defending their placings on one of those classes.

Using USDA criteria, students also evaluate eggs for both internal and external soundness and quality. Students will then grade whole carcasses in addition to identifying cuts of meat off of a poultry carcass. Further, students may also be required to assess processed chicken products, such as fried chicken wings.

Every student in the contest must also take a comprehensive written exam, which tests their knowledge and understanding of the poultry industry as a whole.

King went on to explain, this CDE has a lot of potential because the resources needed to prepare for the CDE can be easier to come by. Logistically, it can be difficult for students to practice judging live animals and horses in preparation for a contest, but chickens may be easier to find, and every grocery store usually offers cuts of chicken and eggs for sale.

Poultry, King says, are really just a smaller version of livestock, so judging them is really no different. It comes down to developing an eye and being able to eloquently defend your placings. The basic concepts learned while judging poultry can be applied to livestock and horse judging.

“The kids still have to judge and they still have to give reasons, chickens just aren’t as big of an animal,” King stated.

Like any CDE offered through FFA, poultry judging is more than a competition, but rather another skillset that students can gain. They learn how to critically think and compare, as well as defend their reasonings. It is a very practical CDE as well that has the potential to lead to career openings. If not that, King just hopes students will have a better understanding of what goes into poultry production as they buy eggs at the grocery store.

“The poultry industry does touch us all, sometimes on a daily basis,” he said.

King admits, 95 percent of the kids in his FFA program come from ranching backgrounds, but all seemed excited at the prospects of a new CDE for Montana FFA. The MAGIE will only be the second time the contest has been offered for students. King hopes that down the road, it can become a state-sanctioned CDE in Montana with the opportunity for students to qualify for the National FFA Convention.

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