Adapting to survive and the 2020 Livestock Handling Scholarship Contest

By Ddee Haynes

You know the old age saying…times flies when you are having fun or growing old!

I have to say the last 24 years have been a little of both!  In 1997, John Sampson, a long-time employee of Midwest shows and a great advocate to the Ag Industry and anything related to FFA/Ag kids came up with an idea to have a livestock handling contest.  John reached out to Frank Elliott, a well-known and respected face in the livestock world and together the idea of the Livestock Handling Scholarship Contest became a reality.

In 2013, John decided to retire, and I was asked to take over the contest.  I have to admit I was a little apprehensive, scared and excited.  I knew how much the contest meant to John and Frank, so failure was not an option.  Eight years later I am glad I took on the challenge as the contest has continued to thrive and each year a few more FFA Chapter teams sign up. 

To understand a little more about the contest there are three phases; 1.) Multiple choice written test, 2.) Tabletop presentation and 3.) Livestock Handling portion. 

Phase One: the written test.  The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions and 2 extra point questions, worth five points each, for a total of 110 possible points. This test is not an easy test as I enlist the help of several large animal Veterinarians each year to help compile the questions.  The questions consist of cattle nutrition, vaccination protocols, reproduction and general cattle raising questions.  Any FFA Chapter from across the state of Oklahoma can put together teams of three along with an alternate, to take the test.  With five FFA districts in the state of Oklahoma, the top 2-high scoring teams from each of the 5 districts earn the right to advance onto phases two and three, which in the past has always been held during the Tulsa Farm Show in December.

The written test, until 2020, had always been given during the Big 3 Field Days which is held each July at Oklahoma State University Campus.

(The Big 3 Field Days is one of the most time-honored summer field days in the country. The three-day event generally draws approximately 1,500 youth to the campus of Oklahoma State University to participate in livestock judging and other educational events.) 

Phase two is the tabletop presentation.  Each team of three must prepare a

Tabletop presentation using one of the two topics they are given.  The topics have ranged from, using genomics to increase profitability in cattle to management of soil and forage for grazing.  Each year the topics change and are generally based on the hot topics in the cattle industry for the current year.   The tabletop presentations are judged by (3) individuals from all walks of the industry.  The ultimate goal is to have the tabletop presentation tell the story of the topic from start to finish so that any person, regardless of their cattle industry knowledge, should be able to understand what is being presented.

Phase three – by far my favorite part, is the livestock handling skills portion.  Each team must process two head of cattle as if the cattle are going to be added back into the herd.  The teams are judged on skill, accuracy and efficiency as they sort and process the two-head using a manual cattle chute.

The Winners are determined by the combination of all three phases. In the past the first through third place have generally been less than a five-point spread.  I have to commend the Ag Teachers and the contestants because the results show just how hard the winning team’s work.

For seven years the contest rocked on smoothly, then 2020 and COVID hit!  The Big Three was cancelled and the usual testing destination was no longer available.  A decision had to be made to either cancel the contest for 2020 or find another way to continue on.   After consulting with Midwest Shows, the decision was ultimately let up to me. 

The first hurdle to cross was how to test all the FFA Chapters scattered across the entire state of Oklahoma.  A short SOS e-mail to several of the people who over the past seven years have worked beside me to make the contest successful, and a game plan was in place!  With the help of Todd Tieperman, Tammi Didlot (my best friend and partner in crime) her husband Dale, and Jim Pilkington we divided up the state in geographics central to our individual locations. From September to the middle of November over 35 FFA chapters across the state of Oklahoma took the written test at their individual schools.

Read more in the April issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch magazine.