The Bradley County 4-H team is the first Arkansas winner of the livestock judging competition at the American Royal Livestock Show at Kansas City. Taylor Gwin is the coach.

The Hermitage High School group dominated the field which had teams from 16 states, not only winning the overall title, but also winning first in swine, cattle and the “reasons” class, in which participants justify their placement of livestock, and taking fifth-place in sheep judging. Gwin teaches agriculture at Hermitage High and is also a county 4-H volunteer.

Each team member also excelled: Samantha Clanton won second place overall high point individual; Abby Johnson won third in overall high point individual; Madison McGhee earned 9th in overall high point individual and third place in swine; and Lupe Martinez won third place in sheep.

The American Royal, established in 1899 in a tent at the Kansas City stockyards, has grown into one of the most prestigious competitions on the livestock circuit. It is now an eight-week season that includes horse shows, barbecue contest and rodeo.

Gwin works the team hard and the team is tested in competition often.

“We’ve traveled a lot this year and have done judging contests in Oklahoma and all over,” Gwin said. “I’m thankful to these kids for buying into my coaching and wanting to be successful. We have a pretty good group of kids.”

The American Royal title is the fifth national title Gwin’s teams have achieved. He has coached back-to-back national champion 4-H forestry teams, a national champion FFA forestry team and a national FFA livestock championship team. Clanton is also a member of his 2017 4-H championship forestry team.

Gwin is no stranger to the 4-H Youth Development program. He was a 4-H member too, winning a state 4-H livestock contest while in ninth grade. Livestock judging may sound somewhat esoteric, but it requires skills that will translate into other areas of life.

“Livestock judging helps youth develop life skills such as critical thinking, decision making, oral communications, and team work,” said Chelsey Ahrens, extension youth livestock specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “It also provides them with opportunities to further their education and attend post-secondary schools as many two- and four-year institutions offer livestock judging scholarships.

Next year will be a building year for Gwin, as two of his team members head to college in 2018.

For more information about 4-H, contact a county extension office or visit The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.

— Mary Hightower is director of communication services at the U of A System Division of Agriculture.