Worland team finds success in range judgingWritten by Christy Hemken
The team, composed of three freshmen, Cassie Hefenieder, Alexis Haun and Landon Doyle, and one junior, Kate Richardson, first competed at the Wyoming Resource Education Days (WyRED) and the State Range Judging Contest, hosted by the South Big Horn Conservation District in Basin in early June, and then moved on to Montana Range Days, held in Miles City, Mont.
The team took first at WyRED, and Kate placed second in open youth and was also named Top Camper. Cassie Hefenieder placed third in open youth. Chief Washakie FFA Advisor Grace Jorgensen placed first in the Open Adult division. The team also placed first at Montana Range Days, while Kate claimed Champion High Individual.
Topics at WyRED include geology, soils, plant physiology, plant identification, range sites, range utilization, wildlife, water quality, riparian areas, applied management practices for range management, weed control, fire ecology, predator control and many others. Students spend the beginning of the week learning about their subjects, then compete in the range judging contest on Friday.
Kate, daughter of Worland-area ranchers Barry and Linda Richardson, says she got her start in range judging in 2008, when her ag advisor talked her into attending WyRED at Kaycee. “It was really pretty there, and there were a lot of plants and it was fun to learn a lot of new things,” she says of the experience. “We learned about ranch and rangeland management, and how to figure out AUM’s, and I really liked it.”
Kate returned to WyRED in 2009 with her team of three other students. “One was already a little interested in competing, and we convinced the other two, but I think they enjoyed it,” she says.
“It takes a good memory,” says Kate of competing. “You have to identify plants and know if they’re warm or cool season, how long they live, their grazing response, whether they’re a native, introduced or invasive.”
She says together her team developed ways to remember each plant and everything about it. In preparation for WyRED the Worland team spent time in the field studying under local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff.
“We’d go out and they’d show us plants and tell us all the information about them, and show us the big ranch maps and how to figure out the AUM’s and the management part,” explains Kate.
In addition to plant identification the WyRED competition includes a range condition component, where an area of range is flagged and competitors must identify the plants within the area and diagnose the health of that particular section of range.
“You really have to pay attention to what they teach you,” says Kate of everything that goes into range judging. She says the WyRED contest has a practice site with over 70 plants on a plant line. “There are a lot of plants out there.”
Following the 2009 WyRED Jorgensen says she received an invitation from a Montana ag instructor inviting Wyoming participants to the Montana Range Days.
Jorgensen says the team hopes to travel to the National Land Judging Contest in Oklahoma City, Okla. this fall.
“I learn something every time I go to a contest, and I like to learn as much as I can about things,” says Kate of Nationals, adding that she also really enjoys the competition.
WyRED doesn’t allow winning teams to return, but the team can compete in the Montana Range Days again, provided they replace one member. Because Kate will graduate high school next spring, the remaining three can pick up another teammate and return to compete.
Kate says studying rangeland management in college is a possibility. “I know I want to do something in agriculture, and even if I want to run a ranch this experience will really help,” she says, noting the range and ranch management sections of the contests.
In addition to range judging Kate will show a steer and a pig at fair this summer, and she’s also been involved in 4-H since she was eight years old.
“The range judging team worked really hard and put in the extra time to be competitive, and we’re very grateful for the NRCS folks that helped us out,” says Jorgensen.