BELTON — The exhibition hall at the Bell County Expo Center was quiet on Friday morning as 150 students from area agriculture programs moved through a fenced enclosure looking over goats, hogs, lambs and steers. Occasionally the silence was broken by a bleat from a lamb and the announcer’s instructions.

“Which Class 4 market hog is the biggest boned?” asked Dustin Coufal, a livestock judge who volunteered his time for the event.

Coufal, like dozens of other people from the Central Texas agriculture community, pitched in to help the Bell County Youth Fair and Rodeo hold its first livestock judging competition this year.

Coufal, involved in livestock judging since he was a child, said the students competing are judging the animals on their “carcass’ characteristics.”

“We look for their skeletal structure, muscularity and degree of finish. We evaluate them and predict what they will bring on the rail.”

He added that livestock judging, as opposed to show judging, works to provide participants with a “more real world, product-based approach.”

Heidi Prude, a member of the Bell County AgriLife Extension office, said much of what the participants are looking for when they judge the animals are deviations from breed and species standards.

Coufal added the standards have been developed within the livestock judging community. As an example of an animal that didn’t meet the standard, he said one of the hogs being evaluated “labored off his lower skeleton.” The animal had difficulty walking and was less likely to yield as high a market price.

Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown, raised on a ranch, said livestock judging helps students “know what to look for when they go to auction.”

Justin Curb, 17, who lives on his family’s ranch near Harker Heights, is one of the students already applying the techniques he’s practiced in livestock judging competitions.

“It’s taught me what to look for in bone and muscle,” Curb said. “And it’s helped me up my herd by bringing in quality animals.”

Coufal said the subjective portions of livestock judging require participants to defend their decisions orally.

This defense helps the students with their public speaking skills, and allows them to advance to higher levels of competition, Prude said.

“For a lot of the kids, this is practice before the spring competitions start,” Prude said.

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