The contestants were strong but graceful as they took center stage. These two were bovine runway models, and the announcer could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo. “She’s got some good influence in her,” he announced. “She’s a good heifer, and she’s smooth in that design; a kind of long-bodied female.”

Ricky Thompson is a professional livestock judge and his competitors strut in high hoofs. Thompson saw flaws and strengths and presented evaluations that encourage champions and inspires the slightly-less-than champions.

Thompson was the judge of the 2018 Feliciana Livestock Show. A long line of young competitors and their parents formed after the show to shake his hand and thank him for his advice, encouragement and excitement.

Thompson, an agriculture extension agent in Nacogdoches, Texas, has been judging livestock shows for 23 years. “I’ve seen one or two of them,” he joked.

Those one or two add up to 30 or 40 shows Thompson estimated, but he said his wife would know the exact number of times the barnyard door swings because she’s not as thrilled by the amount of time he spends on the road.

During livestock show season, Thompson travels across the country but spends most of his time in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Thompson, a native of Texas, said he went to Georgia for a little while where he was a breed manager on a hog farm. He decided that Texas was where he belonged, and because of his love for both people and agriculture, he went to work for AgriLife Extension, an agency of Texas A&M.

AgriLife Extension delivers research-based educational programs and solutions across Texas.

Thompson evaluated nearly 120 animals in the livestock divisions, but parents and spectators were impressed with the amount of time Thompson spent on categories with only one competitor entered. The single entries were given the same time, feedback and encouragement as the multi-entry categories. Thompson said the time and commitment of the competitors merit nothing less than his full evaluation.

“Those kids need that time in the ring, and they want that time in the ring,” he said.

“There’s not many of us that judge livestock shows and judge all species,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to develop the talents where I’ve learned a lot about all species and that takes me a lot of places.”

Thompson knows first-hand how important livestock competition can be to both parent and child. “I have an older daughter who showed for 10 to 12 years starting when she was 6 years old,” he said. “We showed cattle, hogs, goats, all species, and it was a bonding tool for both of us.”

“She was my stepdaughter,” Thompson said. “This was our vehicle for us to stay together, and for us to have a bonding tool and we ran the roads.”