For the first time in recent history, Montana State University has hired a dedicated livestock judging coach who will also teach applied coursework and manage a program that is designed to give students hands-on experience in the beef industry.
Hannah DelCurto recently joined MSU’s animal and range sciences department as an instructor and coach of the MSU Livestock Judging Team and the Steer-A-Year program.
“These programs provide valuable experiences for students that will help them in their future careers,” DelCurto said. “I’m really looking forward to working with MSU students and further developing these programs.”
As part of her position, DelCurto will coach the 15-member livestock judging team, which plans to travel to eight states and 10 competitions this year. She will also teach the technical aspects of animal health and livestock judging talents in a livestock evaluation class.
“Coming to MSU is exciting for me because of the incredibly strong animal science programs here,” DelCurto said. “MSU is well-positioned to be nationally competitive in its livestock judging program.”
In a traditional livestock judging competition, students examine cattle, sheep or swine in a variety of classes relating to the animal’s gender and commercial use. Students examine an animal in front of multiple judges and assign the animal a numeric value for marketability. Students must then orally defend their assessment of the animal to the judges. Explanations generally include facts about body condition like the animal’s weight, build, structural soundness, muscle tone and fat composition. The judges then give the students a score for their overall scoring and oral defense.
“Everything the students speak to directly relates to the value of the animal, either for breeding or commercial use from the perspective of a producer,” DelCurto said. “Students learn critical thinking, decision making, networking and public speaking, which are qualities that go beyond judging competitions and will apply to future careers.”
To fund the team’s travel expenses for regional and national competitions this year, DelCurto will also manage the MSU Steer-A-Year program, which accepts castrated male steers from private producers. The steers are used for teaching and educational purposes and in several courses on campus dealing with beef cattle management and marketing. MSU houses and feeds the steers, while livestock judging team members oversee and manage care of the animals. Students send a monthly newsletter to donors, updating them on the health and progress of the animal. At the end of the year, students sell the steers back to the community during the annual Steer-A-Year sale.
Proceeds from the sale fund the livestock judging team’s travel expenses for regional and national competitions, student scholarships and student activities. The program is currently accepting tax-deductible steer donations.
“The Steer-A-Year program is about (students) having hands-on educational experience in the beef industry,” DelCurto said. “Giving students the opportunity to see the steps and process to raise a feed lot steer for commercial production is a unique privilege. It’s a positive experience for the both the student and the donor.”
Livestock judging and the Steer-A-Year program ultimately involve all aspects of agriculture business and production and life-long skills needed to be successful in those fields, according to Patrick Hatfield, interim head of the MSU Department of Animal and Range Sciences.
“The ability to speak clearly and communicate effectively about an animal’s physiology and marketability is a skill that transfers to a multitude of fields and careers,” Hatfield said. “Experience on a judging team and caring for an animal are important opportunities for our students because the skills garnered are an intersection of technical anatomy and physiology, communication and the business side of agriculture production – qualities that every job in ag demands.”
DelCurto joins MSU from Texas A&M University, where she recently completed her master’s degree in animal science. She also has years of experience in agricultural leadership and showing animals in 4-H and FFA in Oregon. DelCurto has an undergraduate degree in animal science from Kansas State University, where she was also a member of the KSU’s Livestock Judging Team.