Steamboat Springs There's a good chance 13-year-old Heather Wilhelm can spot a top-quality market steer from across the room and discuss its best qualities without missing a beat.
After enduring many practices and competitions to train her on the market trends of livestock for the Routt County 4-H livestock judging team, she ought to be able to single one out.
Coming off one of the best seasons in a while, where Tyler Knott and Kim Williamson both received the outstanding designation on the team, the livestock judging team recently began practicing for competition.
There are two teams in Routt County the over 14-year-old senior division and the under 14-year-old junior division.
To compete, each team member judges 40 animals, including swine, sheep and cattle, for quality of livestock and potential carcass.
Each student identifies what he or she likes or dislikes about the animal, judges it and then gives those reasons to judges.
The judges score the young ranchers on their opinion of the animal and the clarity of their presentation.
"It takes a lot of dedication and it takes a lot of time," judging coach Rod Wille said.
But it's worth it, he said.
Besides learning about livestock, discussing the reasons behind their decisions to a panel of judges, or even to their peers during practice, the 4-H program helps the students overcome a fear of public speaking, Wille said.
Wilhelm, who is competing for the second year, said she is OK with talking in front of the judges now.
"Now I'm fine with it," she said. "But when I first did it, it made me nervous."
For Kim Rossi, 10, this is her first year.
"I'm kind of nervous about (speaking), but then I'm relieved when it is over," she said.
Wille, who also is coaching with Crystal Fisher, said the judging team gives the students a chance to travel.
None of the seven contests they will compete in this year is in Routt County, so the team will travel to Brighton, Douglas County and Gunnison, just to name a few places.
For Tyler Manzanares, 11, and many other team members, the judging team will help him during the fair.
Manzanares raises pigs and shows them in the Routt County Fair.
He said honing his livestock judging abilities enables him to pick the best animals to show.
The judging team also opens up opportunities for team members to get college scholarships and to travel to seminars in the summer.
The team's first competition is April 7 in Brighton. Probably 200 people will compete at the competition, Wille said.
"That one will gauge you, so you know where you want to be," he said.
The team will host its home competition in Craig April 21.