The South Dakota State University wool judging team finished its season by winning top honors at the first ever Black Hills Stock Show Collegiate Contest Feb. 5.
The team also placed first in the placings and reasons categories. In the placings category, members judge sets of fleece and rank them on which they think is best. Reasons is an oral explanation for why members placed the fleece the way they did.
Emily Nold, a freshman animal science and agriculture leadership student, won the high individual honor. She also placed first in grading and second in reasons and placings.
“It was kind of crazy hearing awards being announced,” Nold said. “It was definitely a nice and awesome surprise though.”
Nold competed with three other freshmen team members, Samantha Thyen, Lindsey VanderWal and Isaac Berg, who contributed to the win. A fifth team member, Hadley Stiefvater, couldn’t compete in the Black Hills with the rest of the team.
Wool judging is composed of three components: classes, grading rail and reasons.
Classes are split up into two categories of fleeces: breeding and commercial. Breeding fleece classes look at the genetic value of the fleece. Commercial fleeces focus on the economic value and quality of the fleece.
The grading rail is the judging of 15 sets of fleeces. Overall, the fleece is judged on the cleanliness, length, weight, economic value and other characteristics.
With their season starting in October, the students competed in two contests this year; one of which was the 7220 Wool Judging Contest in Laramie, Wyoming, in January, where they placed ninth overall.
Most of them started with little knowledge on how to judge wool.
“There was tremendous growth with both what they were looking for and their ability to give reasons,” said Rosie Nold, head coach and SDSU animal science professor. “I enjoy working with the students and it’s fun to listen to their creativity when explaining things.”
Jennifer Hurlbert, a past SDSU wool judging team member, was also co-head coach. Brooke Hendrickx and Morgan Busack, also past wool judging team members, assisted in coaching this year’s team.
On average the team spent three to four hours practicing twice a week. In addition, they came back during Christmas break to practice.
“I have been able to improve my public speaking skills and have grown more confident in my decisions,” Thyen said.
Thyen, a freshman animal science major with a pre-vet focus, wanted to be involved on campus. Wool judging was a way for her to be exposed to the sheep industry, and she plans to be a large animal vet after graduation.
Like many other activities, the team’s season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of travel restrictions, the number of team members had to be cut down from between six and 10 members to only five. Also, the National Western Stock Show where the main collegiate contest takes place was canceled.
“I really like our team aspect,” Thyen said. “We were a good unit that balanced each other out.”
Emily, who is also coach Rosie’s daughter, said she enjoys spending time together with her teammates in practices, and they’ve become great friends during their time together. She also appreciates the efforts of her coaches because their guidance has taught her a lot and she has grown as a person.
Rosie has a strong belief in the program and hopes to see it continue in the future. Overall, she has seen members accomplish so much, not only during competition, but in their personal lives.
“This contest offers so much value to individuals,” Rosie said. “It helps with critical thinking, observation skills, decision making and communications skills.”
Since she started, Emily says she has gained confidence in her public speaking skills and being able to explain why she made her decisions because of oral reasons. She also compares evaluating fleeces to real-world examples.
“I can better evaluate strengths and find benefits of the decisions I have to make,” she said, “which in turn helps me figure out my priorities and make better decisions now that I have bettered my evaluation process.”
Black Hills Stock Show results:
Emily Nold: High individual overall, high individual in grading, second high individual in placings, second high individual in reasons
Samantha Thyen: fourth overall, fifth in placings
Lindsey VanderWal: first in placings, third in reasons
Isaac Berg: fifth in grading