Team Players

Judging teams provide students with industry knowledge and networking opportunities

Students at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources put their critical thinking skills to the test through evaluating dairy and meat products and livestock while competing nationally on judging teams.

The MU meat judging team kicked off 2016 with top rankings at two competitions. In January, the MU Meat Judging Team ranked fifth overall at the National Western Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Greeley, Colorado. In February the team ranked second overall at the Iowa State Invitational.

On Oct. 3, 2015, the MU livestock judging team ranked third overall at the 59th Keystone International Livestock Exposition in Harrisburg, Pa. The team scored the highest collectively in reasons.

On Sept. 15, 2015, the MU dairy products evaluation team won first place overall in milk at the 94th Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest in Chicago.

“My favorite memory from being on the team is when we placed first at the national competition in milk. It was really exciting and rewarding to have worked so hard in practice and to be rewarded with a nice trophy,” said Julianna Kubiak, junior in food science and nutrition and dairy evaluation team member.

Students participating on these teams balance a full course load and the team’s time commitment to practice often and travel nationally, building a broad knowledge of each industry. Students shared insight on why they devote time to this extracurricular activity and how it has allowed them to grow.

Meat judging team

Audrey Anderson, sophomore, food science and nutrition, learned about the meat judging team when enrolled in Bryon Wiegand’s Live Animal and Meat Evaluation course. Wiegand is an associate professor and the team’s faculty advisor. The class encouraged students to further their knowledge with the Meat Animal Evaluation course, a prerequisite for joining the team.

The courses allow students to enhance their industry knowledge while also preparing them with the critical thinking and communication skills necessary when competing.

Meat judging team members practice judging at the Salisbury Meat Market.Meat judging team members practice judging at the Salisbury Meat Market. Photo courtesy of Katy Shircliff

“In order to be really good at meat judging you have to have all the material memorized, and you have to have a good eye and be detail oriented,” Anderson said. “The person has to be well written and mentally strong.”

The meat judging categories are divided by species, so students examine beef, lamb and pork. There is also a category called grading where values of carcasses are based on USDA standards. Some contests also include processed meats divisions in which team members rate products like bacon, summer sausage or smoked ham.

Competitions typically begin at 5:30 a.m. During these competitions, contests officials provide meat judging team members a packet of all cards and sheets necessary for judging and contestants have 30 minutes to work up their cards. The competition consists of typically 10 placing classes, five of which require written reasons. The team is graded based on correctness, and reasons graded based on having the correct details.

Anderson said her meat judging team experience has opened up new understanding of the meat industry and allowed her to connect with people already working in the industry. The extracurricular also exposed her to different types of meat products and production plants. Along with this, her skills have been put to the test through competing.

“I decided to join the team because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and be exposed to the meat industry,” Anderson said. “In high school I played sports and am a very competitive person, and I love that meat judging gives me another opportunity to compete.”

The team practices two to three times a week in the meat lab, although they often travel to meat markets to evaluate products. They also stop at packing plants on their way to competitions to expand their meat industry knowledge.

“I would recommend any animal science or food science student to participate on this team because it is such a great networking tool and an amazing way to make yourself more knowledge and potentially more marketable to future employers,” Anderson said.

The Meat Judging Gifts Fund assists with covering travel expenses so that students can participate in meat judging competitions and educational opportunities. To learn more about or contribute to the fund, donate online or contact the CAFNR Office of Advancement at

Dairy products evaluation team

Kubiak joined the dairy products evaluation team after completing the Dairy Products Evaluation food science course. She decided to join the team because she said it was a great opportunity to develop her sensory skills while also providing her with networking skills and experience within the dairy industry.

“In order to be on the team, I had to do well in the course and develop an advanced palate for tasting dairy foods,”Kubiak said. “I did not receive scholarships or prize money for participating, but I’ve received other dairy-related scholarships based on my experience from being on the team.”

Coach Rick Lindhart and team members Adam Berge, Courtney Kleekamp and Julianna Kubiak pose with their trophy. Photo courtesy of Rick Lindhart. Coach Rick Lindhart and team members Adam Berge, Courtney Kleekamp and Julianna Kubiak pose with a trophy. Photo courtesy of Rick Lindhart.

According to Kubiak, an ideal team member would have taken the Dairy Product Evaluation course, have a wide knowledge base of dairy products and have served on the team as an alternate for one year. Alternates practice with the team and travel to competitions, but their scores are not factored into the team’s total score.

During competitions, each team member evaluates six product categories: milk, cheese, cottage cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt. There are eight different samples for each product, and team members have 30 minutes per category to evaluate the samples.

“We assess the products on their flavor, body, texture and appearance,” Kubiak said. “A sample will receive a high score if it is a perfect sample with no defects. A sample will receive a low score if it has pronounced defects. It’s different for each category, and there are different defects in different dairy products.”

Each individual is scored based on how close their scores are to the judges’ evaluations. The team’s cumulative score combines all individual scores except for the alternate’s score. Competitions last about three hours.

“Everyone on the team does the same amount of work,” Kubiak said. “Individual and team awards are given, but everyone on a team tries the same products and practices together.”

The team experience allowed Kubiak not only to learn about the industry but to also build friendships along the way.

“The greatest takeaway has been the knowledge I gained on dairy products,” Kubiak said. “I also enjoyed spending time with the team and traveling with them to competitions. We’re all very close and great friends, so the trips are a lot of fun.”

The Dairy Products Evaluation Team Gifts Fund provides food science and nutrition students with the resources necessary to travel to competitions nationwide. To contribute to the fund, donate online or contact the CAFNR Office of Advancement at

Livestock judging team

The University of Missouri livestock judging team practices twice a week and every weekend. During practice they often travel to farms and ranches to judge livestock.

The team travels to several states across the country for competitions. Competitions often take place during livestock shows. The teammates judge several categories of livestock: heifers, bulls, steers, market hogs, gilts, market lambs, ewe, does and market goats (although, some contests have multiple classes of heifers or hogs).

“Everyone has something that they are the best at, but we all have to be able to do everything. The contest is the same for every competitor,” said Miriam Martin, senior in animal sciences.

Teammates judge market animals different than they would breeding stock. In market animals, one compares fat and muscle, and meat quality is a prime factor. When examining breeding stock, team members look at the animal and try to determine how productive that animal will be in the future. Overall, the specific qualities students base their judgment on depends on which type of animal they evaluate.

“Whether the animal is breeding stock and is going to go back into the herd to reproduce, or whether they are a market animal destined to enter the food chain is the biggest difference that categorizes them,” Martin said. “We evaluate different things like muscle pattern, structural design, and condition.”

Students sometimes face challenges when judging the livestock because classes do not always have obvious distinctions that set them above the rest. This is when critical thinking becomes key.

“Not every class are you going to have a heavy muscled, wide based steer, that’s attractive and good structured that easily goes first. Sometimes you have to make decisions and prioritize the traits that each animal has because of what is in that specific class. There is a lot to take into consideration,” said Rachel Dotson, senior in science and agricultural journalism.

According to Dotson, the oral defense aspect of the contests enhanced her communication skills. She said she applies the skills gained through judging when working at her internship for the Missouri Pork Association.

“My communication skills have been greatly impacted by judging,” Dotson said. “For example, there are times when you go to give your oral reasons to the reasons taker, and you know that you haven’t placed the class right. You have to explain why you placed the class the way you did in the best way possible. So having confidence in yourself is definitely important.”

Because of her livestock judging team experience, Dotson has traveled to 14 different states, Ireland and the United Kingdom. She said her teammates are some of her closest friends.

“Judging during college allows you to make memories that you can look back on for the rest of your life,” Dotson said.

The Livestock Judging Team Gifts Fund assists with covering travel expenses so that students can participate in livestock judging competitions and educational opportunities that are invaluable career building tools. To contribute to the fund, donate online or contact the CAFNR Office of Advancement at



MU's dairy evaluation team smiles after several team members placed at the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest. Photo courtesy of Rick Linhardt.



MU Livestock Judging Team during the National Western Stock Show in Colorado.

meat team brands

meat team brands

MU Meat Judging Team poses in front of "Wheel of Brands" at the National Western Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Katy Shircliff