June 06, 2002 11:00 pm
Expert Analysis: Wade Hilker, the FFA sheep and hog judge at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, talks with Kim DeWitt about her lamb. DeWitt is the vice president of Union High School's FFA chapter. (The Observer/dick mason).
Expert Analysis: Wade Hilker, the FFA sheep and hog judge at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, talks with Kim DeWitt about her lamb. DeWitt is the vice president of Union High School's FFA chapter. (The Observer/dick mason).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

UNION — Wade Hilker always has the last word, but he enjoys being the first to make young people smile.

Hilker, who lives in Columbus, Neb., is a nationally respected livestock judge. He is making his third appearance at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show. Livestock exhibits continue at the show until Saturday.

In watching Hilker work, one gets the feeling that he is a teacher first and a judge second. Hilker makes his judgments decisively but compassionately.

"The thing I enjoy the most is speaking with kids one-on-one. I want them to leave with an understanding of why they didn't win and the knowledge of how to improve and do better the next time,'' he said.

Hilker is an FFA judge for hogs and sheep at this year's show. He judges at 30 shows throughout the United States each year, including major ones in Houston and Oklahoma City.

Hilker would judge at many more if not for the time constraints of his job as a high school teacher in Columbus.

Hilker came to Union after meeting Dennis Clark at an FFA conference in Washington, D.C. Clark is a teacher at Union High School and the adviser of its successful FFA chapter. He feels very fortunate to have Hilker at the Union show, noting that he could make more at other shows.

"He takes a pay cut to come here,'' he said.

Clark said Hilker has an excellent understanding of the latest developments on the national livestock raising scene.

"He's real up to date. It is going to be very hard to find a replacement for him if he ever cannot come,'' Clark said.

Eddie Miguez, a leader of the North Powder Livestock and More 4-H Club, also has been impressed with Hilker.

"He works well with kids,'' said Miguez, who leads the North Powder club with his wife Connie.

"He (Hilker) takes the time to explain to kids how they can improve."

Hilker said that he is always impressed with how the young people at the EOLS are willing to learn and are open to ideas. Hilker said this is a credit to the communities where they were raised and the values they have been taught.

The judge said that in the Midwest livestock shows are more competitive. One reason is that there are many major breeders there.

"It is is not unusual for people to get $800 to $1,500 for a lamb,'' Hilker said.

During his travels, Hilker lists judging hogs as one of the most interesting things he does.

The reason? Genetic improvements are made faster since a hog pregnancy typically lasts only 4 to 4 1/2 months. Hilker can see advancements from one year to the next in hogs entered by young people.

He also judges cattle at other shows.

He has a special respect for cattle raisers because raising a calf is a commitment of at least a year.

"It is a long-term project. It is not something you walk into,'' he said.

Hilker has been a judge for more than nine years. He never appears to hesitate when making decisions.

"I have a mental picture in my mind of what I am looking for,'' he said.

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Whether you prefer beef on the plate, or giving a show by dumping an overconfident cowboy, Saturday at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show is designed for you.

Following a final cowboy breakfast at the Union showgrounds beginning at 6 a.m., the 4-H and FFA Junior Livestock Auction gets under way at 8 a.m. There are plenty of options to purchase award-winning beef, lamb and hogs, supporting the work of the junior handlers at the auction.

With the end of the auction, the livestock show turns to livestock on the hoof — the bucking and running kind.

Saturday's PRCA rodeo starts at 1 p.m., with pari-mutual horse-racing starting at 1:45 p.m.

The EOLS horse-racing track is one of only six American Quarter Horse tracks in Oregon, organizers say.

With the 2002 theme of "Honoring Our American Heritage," rodeo fans will see cowboys from throughout the country competing on stock provided by the Flying 5 Rodeo Company. Bullfighters Mike Gotham and Mick Thompson, and clown Bert Davis, will keep the laughter going while protecting cowboys during the rodeo.

If thrills of the ride kind are preferred, the Carnival Company's midway will be open from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. All-day ride bracelets can be purchased for $18, or individual ride tickets are also available.

An adult Western dance will bring Saturday's EOLS action to a close, with music starting at 9 p.m. at the clubhouse.