HERMISTON - Running a bull-judging competition has been a learning experience for the Hermiston High School FFA Chapter.
That's true in several ways, say four junior girls who participated last year, and are looking forward to competing again this year.
The 4-H and FFA bull-judging competition will be conducted in conjunction with the Second Annual Columbia Basin Bull Breeders Show. It is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 2 along East Main Street. The judging contest will begin at noon.
The youth competition attracted 18 teams last year, coming from as far as Kuna, Idaho, said Nick Nelson, an FFA adviser at Hermiston High. He said adult experts prejudge certain animals in the show, then teams of four students judge the same animals.
"They judge against an expert's opinion," Nelson said. "Getting close is what matters. It's not black and white, like sports."
Kiona Elkins, one of Nelson's students, said the bull judging provided a different experience than FFA usually provides.
Classmate Kenzie Colgan agreed.
"Steers, sheep and pigs is what we're used to," she said.
Nelson said the students are learning the importance of EPDs, or expected progeny differences, which provide estimates of the genetic value of an animal as a parent.
"Most cattlemen need to know what it is," he said.
Elkins added, "It's more of a breeding selection. You're looking for different traits."
Nelson said there's a big difference between judging the carcass value of steers at the county fair, a month before they'll be slaughtered, and judging a bull and trying to look into the future.
"In bulls, you're looking down the road five years, what they can do for your herd," he said.
Kacilyn Davis added, "It's the way you look at them and how long they're going to last - their potential."
Elkins concluded, "And what traits they're going to pass on to their offspring."
Colgan said her experience in the bull-judging competition last year helped in the fall when she faced choosing which steers to buy from a large group.
"You learn to find what you like in a steer or a bull," she said. "It sharpened our skills."
In judging bulls, the students use the same six components they use in judging steers: muscling, capacity or volume, eye appeal or balance, fat thickness, bone structure and size.
Bull judges also try to calculate a trait Nelson calls "stayability - how long they can stay in the herd." Most cows stay in a herd 8-10 years, he said, while most bulls' average life span is about five years.