Illinois man lives for judging livestock

Mitch Prentice
Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, IL. (AP) - Mason Flack has been showing cattle and hogs at local fairs since he was 8 years old. Growing up on a livestock farm in North Henderson, Flack learned to love the different bits of work associated with raising animals.

Since then, every step in his career path has been toward a long-term goal to remain in the business. Flack is an active livestock judge at the Knox County Fair and spent mornings judging goats.

Mason Flack, 20, stands at the Knox County Fair in Galesburg, IL., after spending the  morning judging goats. Flack has been showing cattle and hogs at local fairs since he was 8 years old.

Once he turns 21, he will no longer be able to submit livestock into the junior exhibit. Learning to judge has given Flack an outlet and opportunity to stay within the exhibit and still work with the animals. It also allows him to stay alongside the young trainers who are working their way up.

"Judging helps give me a way to stay involved with the industry," Flack said. "It also gives me a way to stay in relationships with the youth and help them learn in any way I can."

Flack graduated from Black Hawk College East in 2016 and is now attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where he will be a senior in the fall. He worked on the judging team for both schools and references this as a great stride in learning how to judge. Even through junior high and high school, Flack remembers being a part of the judging contest team.

Flack learned to judge through various contest experiences. He claims that the best way to learn this skill is to actually take part and practice. In college, he recalls practicing his judging technique every day, going as far as explaining to a mentor the decisions made in every step of the judging process.

Throughout his training, Flack has learned to judge cattle, hogs, sheep and goats. The basic steps are similar with each species. When entering as a judge, there are two categories of show that a judge must be ready to critique in different formats: breeding and market shows.

At market shows, the livestock is displayed to be sold for meat products. When judging for market value, a judge is looking for what animal has the most product available. This comes down to detail in muscle.

For breeding livestock, buyers are looking for structure. This comes down to how able they are at walking and how fluid their movement is. There also needs to be a present sense of comfortability in the animal. Although it isn't as highly sought after, there is also an aspect of muscle required like the market livestock, though not as much.

Flack looks forward to finishing his training at Texas Tech and continuing to work in agriculture. One possible route he has considered is in the field of AI, or artificial insemination. He hopes that whatever path he chooses, it brings stability in helping to maintain the farm.

"I would love to stay in this business," Flack said. "I hope to be able to supply a steady income for both me and my family."