Fort Hays State resurrects livestock judging team

Dix, Michael in action at fair

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- Kevin Huser is on a mission to rebuild the livestock judging team at Fort Hays State University.

Judging from the response to participating in a summer project he offered to students interested in joining the team, the Ellis County native is well on his way to accomplishing that goal.

Five FHSU students showed up at the Ellis County Fairgrounds Friday morning to help with the 4-H judging contest at the annual county fair.

One of those was Michael Dix from Stockton, who decided to return to college when he heard about the return of Fort Hays State's judging team.

Dix had attended Colby Community College right out of high school and was a member of its judging team for two years. He received scholarship offers to judge at four-year schools, but they were all out of state. So Dix, a biochemistry major, tried one semester at another Kansas university before returning home to the family farm.

"The more I was away from the farm, the more I missed it," said Dix, who laid out of school for a semester.

However, Dix's mom, Andrea, is a junior high math and science teacher in Stockton, "and she's pretty big on education," he said, "so I knew I would probably finish college."

That opportunity came earlier than he expected when his high school FFA advisor told him this spring about the return of FHSU's livestock judging team.

So Dix got in contact with Huser. Come fall, Dix will be back in college, at Fort Hays State, with a new major -- animal science -- and plans to be part of the livestock judging team.

"I'm really looking forward to judging again," said Dix, who grew up judging in FFA and in 4-H, where he was a member of the Livewire 4-H Club in Rooks County, then went to college for more of the same.

"We have a number of students who want to judge," said Don Benjamin, interim chair of the FHSU agriculture department. "We want to satisfy that need and give them the opportunity to compete."

Fort Hays State's ag department had a long history of livestock judging teams until the last couple of years when there weren't enough students interested to field a team of five.

Last spring, Benjamin had asked Huser, an FHSU alum and former livestock judging coach, to teach livestock judging at his alma mater.

Once on campus, Huser -- a Victoria farmer who owns his own construction company -- set the wheels in motion for resurrecting the livestock judging team.

He recruited several students on campus and got the word out. The response was so positive that Huser has a full slate of contests scheduled for the 2016-17 judging team.

"In the fall, we will go through livestock evaluation courses and get ready to compete in the spring," Huser said. "As an alum, I'm excited with what they're trying to implement at Fort Hays State."

Fort Hays State already has about a dozen students interested in joining the team this fall.

"I am so looking forward to this," said Sarah Bellar, an agriculture business major from Howard. Bellar, like Dix, grew up around 4-H and FFA, where she judged for many years.

Bellar is working at FHSU's swine unit at the University Farm for the summer and was glad to help out at this week's fair.

"I miss showing animals, so I'm glad to get back into it," said Bellar, who, in addition to Friday's livestock judging, also helped out with the 4-H beef show the night before.

"I thought this would be good experience for our students," Huser said, "and be a good thing, helping out the 4-H'ers, at the same time."

Getting the livestock judging team back up and running at FHSU, Benjamin says, is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"Our department is going to be up 20, 25 students this year," Benjamin said. "Besides being very economical, and a great education, one of our strong points is the experience they receive here. You can't teach experience. The only way to get them experience is to get their hands dirty. And they can do that here. Having a livestock judging team will add to that experience."

Cutline: Michael Dix, an FHSU animal science major from Stockton, helps guide swine to the livestock arena for the 4-H livestock judging contest at the Ellis County Fair. Photo by Melissa Dixon.

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