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COLUMBIA - Three teenage boys are headed to compete in not one, but two national competitions for judging livestock. 

Aaron Mott, Derek Strawn and Wyatt Thompson have been working together for more than three years. They won the livestock judging state competitions for FFA and 4-H in April and have been preparing for the national competitions ever since.

The FFA national competition begins October 25 in Indianapolis and the 4-H competition is in Louisville on November 15.

Although each of the livestock judging team is made up of four members, the three boys have been together since their freshman year.

“Aaron texted us and said hey Derek, let’s look at some pigs at your house. I said okay sure I’ll get some in the lot. Well when he got there, he handed me a notebook and a pencil and said you’re going to be judging today. I had no idea what I was looking for in pigs!” said Strawn.

FFA and 4-H competitions only allow participants to compete one time at the state and national level in a specific event. The trio of boys waited until their oldest member’s final year of eligibility to compete at the state level.

The trio's 4-H livestock judging coach, Nathan Martin said he’s in it for much more than winning. Martin sees teams like these as helpful for building life-long skills.

“It’s not just the contest itself, but seeing the livestock production in other settings is real valuable to them, their careers and future,” said Martin. "It will help them in any kind of job where personal confidence is needed. I think it will help them as young adults to be real productive citizens."

Their FFA livestock judging team coach Shannon Yokley spoke of the boys’ qualifications.

“These kids deserve to go to nationals, they have grown up in 4H and FFA. They are representing both FFA and 4H on a national team. They’re farm kids. They grew up raising hogs, showing cattle they really have earned this opportunity. They know it inside and out,” she said. “It’s something they’re passionate about and I’m excited for them to represent Missouri in this facet.”

Nathan Martin, the 4-H livestock judging team coach, brings decades of experience to the table and the boys say what he’s taught them is invaluable.

“If you want to name a last name in the state of Missouri for people who know the livestock industry and animal science world, it’s the Martins. I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to have Nathan as a coach myself for my 4-H team who went to nationals in 2011,” said Yokley.

Mott has been working with Martin since he was eight years old.

“Before I was ever comfortable talking to Nathan I knew that he was a legend, he had taken teams to nationals, he’d won all these different things and somebody with that kind of position was someone unapproachable it might seem. But Nathan and the whole family—the Martin Family—is the nicest family in the world,” said Mott.

The boys describe Martin as “tough” but “smart.”

“Nathan never let’s you ride easy. Every practice you don’t want to give a set a reasons, and that’s fine but you’re going to give 2. He’s going to make sure they’re good and he’s going to make sure you get critiqued no matter how good they are. I think the ‘good enough’ factor is something that get’s left behind by other teachers but Nathan understands that there’s always room for improvement,” said Mott.

Part of each competition includes judging classes of animals. Martin said, “they’ll be questions like, you know, between cow 158 and 157 which one is straighter in the back left leg, or which one has more capacity in the rib cage or something like that where they really got to understand and remember.”

At the end of the day, Martin says livestock judging is all about knowing the animals and has taught the boys to understand the value in the contest for anyone who buys meat.

“Livestock judging is really about the quality of animals and the quality of animals really leads to the quality of food that you buy in the store,” said Thompson.

Follow the team’s progress for the FFA competition on their website or on the judging website.