We caught up with judge Nolan Hildebrand before he steps “Inside the Ring” to sort the Market Lamb Show at Tulsa State Fair. Learn more about Nolan below…
What’s been your all time favorite sheep you have judged?
I am still young or newer in my judging career but the one I think about the most would be my champion ewe at Tulsa in 2021.
Who’s your biggest influence in evaluating livestock?
My mom and dad have been huge influences on me in terms of evaluating livestock. From the basics they taught me growing up to providing me the opportunities to be involved in the livestock industry set the stage for my development as a stockman. My greatest influence would easily be my grandfather Bob Cummings. He instilled in us at a very young age how the skeletal system should be organized and also the importance of compositional correctness. When I got older Matt Kennedy and my uncle Clint Cummings had major influences on sharpening my ability as an evaluator. My college judging coaches Blake Bloomberg and Gretchen Mafi also had giant influences on selection. Blake did a great job of keeping everything big picture and motivating personal belief, and Mafi really helped me understand what is important on the terminal side of things.
What do you look for when evaluating?
I am big on initial impressions and will be studying and pulling sheep the moment they walk into the ring. Sheep that are correct in their basic build and come with athleticism will be found early. After that the ones with more than enough muscle and an acceptable degree of fat cover will be the next sort. Usually sheep that are heavy muscled, athletic, and good built will balance and look the part.
If down to the last few, what will be your sort?
Quality and which one is the hardest to make. As I stated earlier I am big on initial impressions so when the going gets tough the one that hit me the hardest at the start will usually get the nod.
Do you prefer to evaluate when sheep are in motion or stuck on profile?
I think both are extremely important but if I had to pick one I would say in motion.
Tell us about your family!
I recently moved back home to Templeton, CA over a year ago so I could be more involved with our family’s club lamb and angus cattle operations. My father, mother, grandfather, and two of my uncles all have been or currently are agriculture instructors at the high school or university level. I grew up showing with my two sisters who now have successful careers; one is a vice president of fraud for a bank and the other is a nurse. Our family’s backbone would be my Grandma Jo, without her we would be lost and myself, siblings, and cousins wouldn’t have the opportunities that we have today.
What’s one show you look forward to every year?
I enjoy attending all stock shows because it is a great time to catch up with friends and meet new people. This one may be out of left field but our county fair back home the California Mid State Fair is a fun show with a cool environment.
In your mind, how has the industry changed in the show ring over the last 10 years?
We have definitely made them thicker and fuzzier and moderated them up some. While all these traits are important especially in a show ring environment I feel doubling down on these traits have made some of our sheep quicker maturing and lacking that natural look of running up hill, which in my mind diminishes their athleticism. I do think some of these sheep today could use a little more natural elevation and height of shoulder by having a little bit more immaturity tied into their front skeletons. Our upper rump constructions right now are very square, level and boxy but I do think we have started sacrificing some length of hip because of it. I know there will be a lot of great sheep at Tulsa and I know there will be a good handful of them that combine these beneficial traits to a high degree.