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New Mexico State University

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NMSU Wool Judging team to compete at Houston Livestock Show

Six New Mexico State University students will compete in an inter-collegiate wool judging contest at the Houston Livestock Show March 14.



New Mexico State University sophomore Russell Walter tests wool for fiber soundness during a judging team practice. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

According to Tim Ross, head coach of the team, students who judge wool learn to appraise the commercial and genetic value of unprocessed fleeces according to a number of different characteristics, including purity, character, grade and yield. The students are then evaluated on their ability to assess the shorn fleeces.

"Students participating in judging contests do not simply learn about the wool industry. They build life skills like critical thinking, decision making, communication and teamwork," Ross said.

The contests are broken up primarily into three parts: grading, placing classes and oral reasons. Students grade the commercial value of 15 fleeces according to a list of predetermined characteristics including yield, grade, staple length and character. The students rank classes of four fleeces according to commercial or genetic traits, and then present oral reasons to a contest official, usually an industry professional, defending their placing.

The team members are Denny Burnett, of Artesia, N.M.; Skyla Cockerham, of Texico, N.M.; Brock Graham, of Melrose, N.M.; Andrea Stapp, of Roswell, N.M.; Russell Walter, of Animas, N.M.; and Erica Montoya, of Albuquerque, N.M. The team is coached by Tim Ross, assistant academic department head of Animal and Range Sciences at NMSU, graduate student Beau Schillings, of George West, Texas, and undergraduate senior Brandon Herron, of Roy, N.M.

"NMSU is one of four 'power teams' out of the ten that will be at the Houston Livestock Show. Texas A&M will be the team to beat at Houston, and we aim to beat them," Ross said.

At the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., in January, NMSU's wool team placed fifth in wool judging overall and first in the hand spinning wool category. Burnett was third high individual, second high in reasons and first high in grading. Cockerham was second high individual in the hand spinning category.

In February, the team competed at the San Antonio Livestock Exposition in Texas, where they placed second overall. Burnett was second high individual and Stapp was sixth high individual, with an unprecedented perfect score in placing classes.

The team has been preparing for the competition in Houston for most of the academic year, practicing 2-3 times a week.

The NMSU wool team has a history of doing well in competition, winning top honors at the National Western Stock Show's wool judging contest in 2005.

The current coaches of the wool teams at Texas A&M and San Angelo State University both received graduate degrees from NMSU, and helped coach the NMSU wool team during their time here.

Ross contends that students, especially freshmen, who participate in NMSU judging programs are more successful as students, citing an average GPA of 3.7 among his current team.

"I judged in FFA in high school, and that was a special thing for me," said team member Walter. "The judging programs here at State are wonderful. I would encourage anyone who is interested in any of the teams to try out."