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Clay Elliott

This edition of A Few Minutes is with Clay Elliott, Livestock Judging Team Coach & Agriculture Recruiter at Redlands Community College and Owner/Operator of Allred/Elliott Genetics. Mr. Elliott will be judging the market lamb & breeding ewes at Arizona National on Thursday, December 29 and Friday, December 30. Enjoy reading our candid interview with Mr. Clay Elliott and be sure to check back for more judge interviews!

What is your background and current involvement in the sheep industry?
I grew up on a 500 head cow/calf operation in Newcastle, WY.  My two brothers and I also had a group of approximately 100 club lamb producing ewes.  That 4-H/FFA project eventually grew into the monster that my wife Lili and 3 little girls Bree, Kyra and Myka deal with daily.  Our current operation consists of 300 mature ewes and 135 replacement ewe lambs.  My partner’s, John and Jeane Allred run roughly 115 mature ewes in the Uintah Basin near Vernal, UT. I currently train a competitive livestock judging team at Redlands Community College in El Reno, OK.  Between this, a sheep operation, a strong wife and 3 daughters, our lives remain very busy.

How does your current operation effect what you look for when evaluating sheep?
I am a huge fan of quality livestock and thoroughly enjoy looking at and evaluating animals regardless of specie.  With that said, the work involved with a profitable livestock operation is extensive so for this guy I like the sheep in our operation to look good.  Structure, balance, body shape, pin width and muscularity seem to help us pay the bills.  I think this belief stretches deep into my evaluation of sheep in the show-ring.

Where did you attend college and what awards did you achieve while judging in college?
I was fortunate to have judged on a very successful Community College Team in Casper, WY.  I then transferred to Colorado State University where I was in the top 10 in every National Contest but one.  My team earned the Reserve National title in Louisville that year.  I earned a M.S. in Meat Science and a PhD in Reproductive Physiology from Texas Tech University and was also on faculty while training the Livestock Judging Team there for 9 years. 

I feel that the success of my teams over the years far out-weighs anything that I ever accomplished personally within the judging arena and I take great pride in my students and their teams success as well there accomplishments later in life.

What are your initial sorts when evaluating market lambs?
My initial sort is really no different than anyone who has been asked this question…muscle and composition are the first priority.  I think the difference in the kind that I tend to favor has to do with the amount of muscle that I believe is necessary.  I think that champions should possess as much natural muscle as we as breeders can generate as long as that muscle and power doesn’t come at the expense of skeletal quality and structural integrity.  I like lambs that are youthful and fresh.  A lambs rib-cage, chest floor, breast bone, neck and head size as well as muscle shape are all sound indicators of maturity to me.  Balance is critical as well…either when planted in the ground or when they are asked to move.  I want them to remain the same with respect to their top-line and underline.

I truly believe that champions are unique…to me that means the hardest one to create.  I like lambs that have the fewest problems, not just the biggest butted or biggest racked or biggest boned.  The lamb with the fewest problems tend to work towards the top for me.  I am far from a single trait selector.

What would you consider an acceptable fat and weight range for a late December show?
.15-.30 maximum

What’s the best lamb you have ever seen?  What is the best lamb you have ever judged?
Sydney Witte’s Champion at Ft Worth was sure one of my all-time favorites.  The best one I have judged in recent history would have to be Hunter Gerths Champion at Iowa.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the sheep industry today?
The drought in the Southwest this past summer has totally devastated sheep numbers.  I think that re-populating could be a challenge especially if we endure another year like the last.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the show ring
Pet Peeves include paint, forearm wool, and leg wool that has not been fitted.

Being in the field of teaching the next judges, what is one major factor you try to emphasize to a beginning show lamb judge?
I tell all of my students to treat the young people with respect and describe the animals perfectly.  Don’t lie to the folks about there lamb because many of them already know there animal strengths and weaknesses much better than you do.

Where is one place you are wanting to take Lili and the girls for vacation?
We are not “vacation people” but if we were I’d say Lili and I in Vegas would be fun but I’m pretty sure that’s not a place for our family.  Disney World or maybe an Alaskan Cruise might better suit us.

Now that you have children showing animals, does it change your views of show lambs?
No question that it changes my perspective.  I have a much greater respect for tremendous showman because this game is hard!!  I also respect the kind of lambs that certain judges like and feed some for specific people, even though I may not like them myself.

Thanks Clay for your time!