Gate Cuts: Professional Ethics for the Judge

By Paul Walker, Ph.D., DI Walker Consulting

TREG_FC3.2014_49194oa4cAs you read this article, the summer show season has come and gone. I hope you won some and had a lot of fun. I want to boast a little as a proud father. My daughter Leslie received the AJSA Gold Merit Award (1 of 5 awarded) at this year’s National Classic for her “leadership, scholarship, extracurricular participation, and direct involvement within the beef industry” (AJSA words not mine). That recognition topped an already great summer show season.

I have been judging livestock shows (primarily beef cattle) since 1972. During those five decades, I have seen a lot of good things and a few bad things happen in the show ring. The last few years, the most disturbing observation has been a growing violation of professional ethics by some of our young judges.

There is an unwritten code of ethics that most people follow when judging livestock shows. I am most certain that judging coaches across the country either directly teach or informally discuss these values with their students. I know my coaches (Don Birk and Glen Richardson) did.  The purpose of this narrative is to emphasize these values and to put these rules in writing for all judges to review and refresh their memory from time to time.

Rule 1: Guarantee Availability.

Do not accept a judging assignment without checking your availability and ability to arrive at the show on time. If compensation for your service is important, agree to an amount before accepting the assignment.  

Rule 2: Avoid Conflict of Interest.

Do not accept judging assignments if owners of cattle in which you have a partnership interest want to show those cattle in the show you will be judging. Do not accept a judging assignment for a show in which someone for whom you work (either directly or as a consultant) is showing. Do not accept a judging assignment if livestock you have sold or if cattle for which you have previously had an association will be in the show. Exceptions are personal friendships, co-owners of livestock for livestock not in the show, and previous employers. Everyone knows someone and any knowledgeable judge will know one or more exhibitors – that is expected.

Rule 3: Arrive on Time.

A good rule of thumb is to arrive at the show and check in with the superintendent about 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the show. Avoid livestock stalls at all times (both before and after the show). Prior to the show avoid visiting with exhibitors (other than a friendly greeting if the situation arises). If you arrive at the show early, spend your time away from the stalls of the livestock or particular breed you will be judging.  

Rule 4: Leave Promptly.

Following the show and pictures of champions, leave the show. Do not go to the livestock stalls and visit. Certainly, cordial conversation in the show ring with exhibitors following the show is acceptable. This rule does have an important exception, the responsibility for which falls on the judge. Many times at our large national multi-breed shows (such as NAILE, American Royal, etc.) one will be asked to judge a breed other than the breed he/she is showing. It may be acceptable to judge in such a situation if the breeds are stalled in separate sections by breed with two caveats; you obtain approval when the show offers the invitation and you avoid the stalling area where the breed you are judging is housed. If different breed stalling areas are intermixed, do not accept the assignment or only attend the show on show day. Someone else should care for your cattle.

Rule 5: Handling Multiple-day Shows.

Oftentimes judges are asked to judge one or more breeds over a two or three-day span. When judging one breed over a two-day span never visit the stalling area. Following day one’s judging, leave the show and return the next day 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. If judging multiple breeds over a 2-3 day period, it is acceptable, following day one judging to watch other breeds or species show, as long as you do not socialize with exhibitors of a breed you will judge. The downtime between shows can be boring, but you must be vigilant to avoid visiting with exhibitors of a breed you will be judging. Perception is everything; and, the judge must appear unbiased and objective in his/her evaluation.

Rule 6: Always Dress Appropriately.

National shows and winter shows (unless the show ring is really cold) require a sport coat/tie (professional dress). Summer shows require a tie at a minimum. A hat or English cap can be worn at the judge’s discretion never wear a ball cap. Jeans may be suitable for country fairs but trousers/slacks are best for state and national shows. I am not one to get bogged down about one’s attire but a professional look is always best.  

Rule 7: Give Succinct Reasons.

Giving reasons is where our young judges shine. Many have learned the art of giving descriptive and comparative terminology very well. One word of caution, just be sure the reasons fit the animal(s). I enjoy listening to judges who say little but whose terms accurately describe the livestock. Less can be more, especially if the words are accurate. Nothing taints a show like flowery, descriptive terms that are not accurate. In junior shows, when feasible try to speak positively about each animal in the ring (it is not possible to address each animal in large shows).

Rule 8: Always Present a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA).

Be upbeat. Act like you are having a great time. If the judge is upbeat and positive, the exhibitors will be upbeat, and suddenly, you will have a great show. Exhibitors will think the judge did a great job and are more likely to go home with a positive memory if the judge seemed enthusiastic and had good things to say about the livestock and the people.

It is important that judges maintain showing integrity. Perception can be reality. If exhibitors and observers perceive honesty in animal evaluation, and professional conduct in our judges; the show ring and all that is good about it will continue for a long time. The content of this article is that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Simmental Association.