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Students Decide If Chickens Make The Grade

FAA students judging chickens

The early bird may get the worm, but for FFA club members across North Carolina, getting up early was just one part of competing in the NC FFA Poultry Evaluation Career Development Event.

Around the state, middle and high school students set their alarms and rose before the sun (and most chickens). They were headed to Raleigh to show how well they could grade and evaluate chickens, processed poultry and eggs. One middle school team from around Charlotte was already on a bus at 5:30.

Despite their early wake-up call, students were relaxed and focused on the business ahead. They were in town for a competition, but had an easy camaraderie as they waited for the doors of the Gov. Kerr Scott building to open.

Students standing in line
Student groups line up to wait for judging to begin.

As buses and carpools pulled into the NC State Fairgrounds, organizers from the North Carolina FFA Foundation and the Prestage Department of Poultry Science (PDPS) set up the judging stations inside. Faculty, staff, students and volunteers moved chairs and tables into place and arranged and wrapped poultry products.

Broilers and Leghorn layer hens punctuated the early morning with clucks and crows, reminding everyone that they were the stars of the coming event.

Judging stations were carefully arranged to challenge students: Would they recognize the difference between a drumstick and a drumette? Could they rank laying hens? How would they rate fresh and frozen poultry pieces?

Ken Anderson of PDPS oversaw the judging set-up while Jason Davis, the NC FFA Association’s State FFA Coordinator, oversaw student arrivals. Anderson updated station attendants on new rules and general guidelines and guided pre-judging. As 9:30 approached, everyone headed outside to welcome the gathered students.

The squawk of a bullhorn alerted students that things were getting started. Davis welcomed the students and introduced Jean Sanders, an avian veterinarian representing Zoetis. Zoetis generously sponsored the event along with the NC Egg Association and Perdue Farms, Inc. Sanders emphasized the students’ involvement in an important industry, telling them “You’re the future of agriculture.”

Following Sanders’ remarks, Anderson gave students a brief review of the rules and called groups forward to begin their rounds in the Scott building.

Student examining a chicken
First-ranked student Makenzie Harden examines a Leghorn layer hen.

With over 350 students, this year’s event set a new record registration record. To accommodate everyone, students were assigned to the morning or afternoon judging session. Within their session, each group carefully followed the competition flow, moving from station to station with focused faces and clipboards in hand. Whether candling eggs, ranking broilers or presenting reasons to judges, students radiated concentration while on the judging floor.

It wasn’t all seriousness, though. Laughter erupted as the broilers and layers reminded everyone of their importance. Whether clucking their suggestions or laying their eggs, the chickens actively participated in the day’s events.

Teams that do well at the state-level judging earn recognition as an NC FFA Poultry Judging Team and go on to compete nationally. Some students have even higher ambitions. One high school senior described his plan to study in the new agriculture program at his local community college and then transfer to NC State. Students considering NC State’s programs remind everyone why they’re doing what they do.

As Jean Sanders reminded them at the day’s start, FFA students have bright futures in and beyond agriculture.

Ken Anderson characterizes the competition as building skills “we use our entire life”: “How to make a decision…and stick with that decision…that’s what judging’s all about.”

Whether FFA students pursue agriculture or not, participating in the Poultry Evaluation event will give them real-world skills they can use in school, work and life.