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Jack Morris: Giving youth skills to succeed through 4-H livestock judging

Jack Morris

The Minnesota 4-H Foundation is raising support for the John “Jack” Morris 4-H Livestock Judging Fund, an endowment honoring Jack Morris, a retired University of Minnesota Extension agriculture agent and livestock judging coach. In 4-H livestock judging, youth learn how to evaluate and rank beef, sheep and swine based on criteria and appearance that are indicators of market qualities and then defend those rankings in a two-minute presentation, called oral reasons.

Morris’s involvement in livestock judging began in 1944, when he joined the Rice County judging team as a 4-H’er. The way he tells it, his first practice didn’t go very well. The coach sensed his frustration. “He said, ‘Son, you just stick with this judging thing because some good things will come out of it for you,’” Morris remembers.

He coached livestock judging for 34 years, first at Clarissa High School as a vocational agricultural instructor, then in Swift County and later Pope County as an Extension County Agricultural Agent. Five 4-H teams he coached advanced to the national level and two won the national competition. Morris talks about the relationships he created with students. “Another highlight has been to have team members come back and talk about the impact livestock judging had on their lives and their careers,” he says.

4-H judging team

The first place team at the 1968 Minnesota 4-H livestock judging contest. Kent Thiesse is on the left.

Jack Morris with 4-H judging team

Jack Morris (left) with the 1987 1st place intermediate team at the Swift County 4-H livestock judging contest.

Kent Thiesse, a former Extension educator who is now Vice President of MinnStar Bank, was one of the 4-H’ers Morris coached. "Jack Morris has been one of the most influential persons in my life, with his guidance and leadership of the 4-H livestock judging program serving as a cornerstone to my career success and achievements," he says. Thiesse adds that Morris and livestock judging were part of what led him to a career in agriculture. Both Thiesse and Morris are University of Minnesota graduates.

According to Morris, livestock judging teaches critical thinking, decision-making, public speaking and an in-depth knowledge of the livestock industry. Thiesse adds that judging competitions give participants opportunities to meet industry leaders and build connections. They agree that the skills youth develop through livestock judging are foundational for success in college and careers.

Livestock judging requires commitment of time and energy from the 4-H participants and their coaches. The livestock industry and the desirable traits for different animals change over time. Brad Rugg, Program Director for Fairs and Animal Science for Extension Center for Youth Development explains that good coaches maintain both knowledge of the livestock industry and the communication skills needed to give oral reasons. “We want them to know the latest of trends, but we also want them to know how to put together a good set of oral reasons and teach the kids how to do that,” he says.

4-H livestock judging today

4-H livestock judging can continue today with the help of dedicated coaches and support from the John "Jack" Morris Livestock Judging Fund.

The fund will support the future of the 4-H livestock judging program, both encouraging youth to participate in the program and providing coaches with the training they need to help their teams succeed.

To make a gift to the fund, make checks payable to the Minnesota 4-H Foundation (specify fund 0218) and send to Minnesota 4-H Foundation, 9 Coffey Hall, 1420 Eckles Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108. You can also make a gift online at At the bottom of the online form, under special instructions, designate Fund 0218 or Jack Morris Livestock Judging Fund.​ For more information, contact 612-624-7971.

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