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Justin Jonas is pleased to present the first of our new series, “A Few Minutes”, where we will feature a judge for one of the upcoming shows. We’ve decided to feature Justin Jonas in our first edition of “A Few Minutes”, as he will be sorting the market lambs at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Nebraska. We invite you to read our candid interview with Mr. Jonas below. Be sure to check back often for “A Few Minutes”.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up and went to high school in New Braunfels, Texas.

What was your experience with sheep growing up?
We raised fine wools and fine wool crosses, as well as Angora goats. We also owned a feed store and I showed up through high school. I was fortunate enough to show the grand or reserve at three majors my senior year of high school.

What shows did you have grand or reserve at?
I showed the Grand Champion Market lamb at El Paso, the Reserve Grand at Fort Worth, and the Reserve Grand at San Antonio.

Where did you go to college?
I went to Texas A&M and judged under Glen Allan Phillips.

What were some of your personal accolades there?
I was in the top ten at National Barrow Show, Houston and Arizona National. I also finished second at Fort Worth Stock Show by 1 point.

What team accomplishments do you have to speak of?
Well, we won Dixie National, but at the big ones we just never seemed to be able to put it together. We had a lot of talent and a lot of high individual placings, but we just never all put it together on the same day.

Everyone that judged has had that one card they wish they could go back and change. What would it have been for you?
National Barrow Show. I lost the contest by nine points because I mismarked a card. I knew right after I handed it in, what I had done and I had to give a set of reasons on that placing. I walked in to give reasons and when I got done the official gave me a strange look and said you described them as well as anyone, but I don’t understand your placing. I just smiled and said, “Ever mismark a card.” He smiled and he ended up giving me a pretty high score, but that mismarked card cost me the contest.

Let’s talk about some market lamb evaluation now. What are your main priorities when judging market lambs?
Well, I think we have to first remember that we are all trying to raise a meat product for the industry, so muscle needs to obviously be our first priority. After that I think we can look at some other things such as structure and basic quality of the lamb.

What do you consider an acceptable fat range to be?
I want a lamb most importantly to handle good. I like one that is naturally hard muscled. I have people tell me that I like them leaner than others, but I really don’t feel that I do. If anything, I feel like I take them a touch fatter than most, because of my experience working in a packing plant. We used to get in all of these show lambs and they wouldn’t have enough finish to last in the freezer. The carcasses would shrink too much and then dry up. When we look at where the markets are that we ship to mainly east and west coast, those carcasses have to have enough finish to last. We hardly have any yield grade two’s in the industry. I would say I would like them to be no barer than two tenths of an inch of fat. More importantly we need a more uniform finish.

If you could give exhibitors one piece of advice on what to take away from the experience what would it be?
You know, I just feel blessed to have an opportunity to be asked to work a big show. Kids don’t realize that I get just as nervous as they do when I’m judging. It’s not that I question the lambs I’m selecting. I’ve been accused of handling lambs a lot more than some, but I just want to make sure every kid feels like they got a fair look in the ring and they have a good experience showing.

They need to know that the experience as a whole of showing lambs is a great thing. Sometimes we all get caught up in the moment and it can be heartbreaking at times. The responsibility of raising a lamb, keeping it healthy and getting the most out of it that they can, teaches you so much. A lot of times when I see exhibitors later on in life, it’s those kids that worked really hard and stood 3rd or 4th, that take the most away from it. They seem to carry that into future success than kids that are winning all the time. I left a job that was a lot less stressful and was able to travel the world, however I felt God wanted me to work somewhere where I could give kids the same opportunity I had as a student.

Where do you work now?
I am the executive director of the San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo.

Where do you call home?
I live in Christoval, about fifteen miles form San Angelo with my wife Bridgette and 2 ½ year old son Levi.

Do you still raise sheep?
Yes, we still have around 75 head of Fine Wools.

Who was the most important influence in you sheep and/or judging career?
My dad influenced me the most on the importance of responsibility and treating people with respect while growing up on our sheep farm.  I also met a great man named Gail Christian who became an important element in my success in the showring.  I want to thank GOD for giving me the ability to evaluate sheep and all the doors he has opened for my family and I.

Lastly a fun question to end on….do you own an IPOD?
No I don’t actually. My wife does, but my Blackberry, which I couldn’t do without, is about as advanced as I get. My son will probably own one before I do.

Well in that case, who is your favorite musician?
That’s tough. I would have to say, the Zac Brown Band.