OFF THE CUFF

Over the years, I’ve witnessed lots of livestock showing competition during the Texas County Fair, and one thing never gets old: Listening to a judge describe what makes one animal stand out above the others.

But while it’s always pretty cool to hear them speak, all judges are not created equal with regard to their delivery. In other words, some are better than others at helping the casual observer get the most out of the experience.

And wow, that was obvious this year.

The same woman did the judging of pigs, sheep, goats and cattle: Macey Goretska, a coach on the livestock judging team at Oklahoma State University. And while watching her scrutinize all of those vastly different types of livestock was in itself pretty amazing, what was most extraordinary about her effort was the way she conveyed her message when she had made a decision.

When I first saw Goretska grab the microphone and address the crowd, I noticed right away that something was different. The articulation, inflexion and clarity of her speech were so in tune with the situation that anybody listening would almost surely be drawn to pay attention.

I know I was, and I heard from more than one other person who told me they felt the same way (before I said anything about it to them).

As a large crowd watches, livestock judge Macey Goretska observes contestants in a class during pig showing competition at this year’s Texas County Fair.

One of the best aspects of Ms. Goretska’s technique was the phrasing she frequently used that was obviously specific to her craft. And these weren’t just fluffy words strung together to create a false sense of authority or know-how, they were the foundation of a masterful form of descriptive dialect.

She would mention how a sheep was “expressive and square” or how a male goat would be better for showing if the exhibitor would “open him up a bit” or “calm him down” in a particular area of his body.

She would refer to the “pattern and athleticism” of a sheep, spurring thoughts of “who knew a sheep could be athletic?”

If something wasn’t quite right about a pig or cow, Goretska might say the handler should “collect him up,” “freshen him up” or “power him up,” and that “neater pattern and lines” might help.

And certain animals that might be “too plain in terms of muscularity” might benefit from “a shot more true shape,” while others might simply need better “bone work down low.” 

I know just a bit more than nothing about what a livestock judge looks for, but I found myself thinking, “yeah, yeah – power him up and calm him down.” What a pleasure.

And then there was the annual Sheep and Goat Fashion Show on Thursday night. Goretska stood in as the “judge,” even though it was an “everyone’s a winner” type of event, and as has been a tradition since the Fashion Show was added to the list of the fair’s livestock activities seven years ago, she used the microphone to conduct a short interview with each contestant as he or she entered the arena.

As usual, Goreetska spoke to the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Paul Bunyon and a beach bum as they sauntered into the ring. But suddenly, the funniest thing I’ve ever seen at the show happened.

Nine-year-old Landon Parish stepped up, and Goretska was tongue-tied and basically stopped in her tracks. While the goat Parish was leading had no costume whatsoever, the young man had a perfectly blackened right eye, his left arm had a cast on it and was in a sling. As the judge sort of stuttered and had difficulty figuring out what to say, the boy calmly turned around without uttering a word and revealed a message scrolled on his back: “Goat for sale; good with kids.”

When Goretska read it over the public address system, she nodded her head and smiled while laughter rang out all around the arena. It was awesome, and provided a great example of how you never really know what to expect at the Sheep and Goat Fashion Show.

Livestock judge Macey Goretska examines a sheep during showing competition at this year’s Texas County Fair.

Anyway, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Texas County Fair Board for constantly improving the barns and adjacent grounds, and always creating a better environment for both animals and humans. This year it was clear that lots more work had been to the pens in the sheep and goat barn, as the old wood is gone and they’re all now constructed of stout metal frames.

The same thing has been done in the pig barn in recent years, and fixtures in the cattle barn are now primarily sturdy metal as well.

And speaking of wood, the barrier between rows of pens is now absent in the sheep and goat barn, which has opened up the space in a remarkable manner. And again, a similar change was recently made in the cattle barn, with similar results.

If you talk to Fair Board president Curtis Rouse, you can hear the sincerity in his voice when he refers to the yearly improvements the organization strives to provide. I’d say that of all the volunteer groups that exist in this community, none works harder than the Fair Board. And it shows.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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