Meet The Judge

Ten Questions With Terry

We had the opportunity to catch up with Terry Burks, judge of Breeding Sheep Showmanship and the open Border Lancaster show at the 2023 North American International Livestock Exposition. A Kentucky native and prestigious judge, Burks is no stranger to the green shavings and is highly knowledgeable about all aspects of the show industry.

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I am originally From Boswell, Indiana, which is northwest of Lafayette, Indiana, but most of my life, I have lived in the Barron County/Glasgow area of south-central Kentucky.

Q: What is your background in agriculture?
A: I grew up showing Simmental cattle and was very active in the American Junior Simmental Association. Then, of course, there were 4-H and 4-H livestock judging programs, and then into FFA. After high school, I got my bachelor’s and master’s in animal science at Western Kentucky University.

Q: How did you get your start as a judge?
A: Like most folks, I was on the state 4-H judging team in 1979, to date myself a little bit, then was on the collegiate livestock judging team at Western Kentucky University. I then coached the University of Tennessee and WKU judging teams while working on my master’s degree. I judged my first show professionally in December ‘86, and the breeding sheep showmanship I judged here at the North American last Friday was the 1,201 show of my judging career.

Q: What is your favorite species to judge?
A: I enjoy judging them all and am one of those unique judges who has judged all four of the primary meat species nationally. I would say my favorite one to judge would be close between sheep and goats. I enjoy the goat thing just because it is such a unique project with variation between the breeding stock with the ABGA-type animals and then the wether type -- I do tons of those shows. Before my wife and I were working over in China we were in the goat business, and we had a large flock, so I guess that was my favorite species to judge.

Q: Did you show at NAILE?
A: Yes, I came with my county 4-H judging team to the first North American. I didn’t show in it then but came to observe both as a youth and after I graduated high school. I ran a cattle fitting service, so we showed cattle at Louisville. Since that time being in the sheep business, we have shown sheep here, and we have shown goats here, so I have shown in most of the barns here.

Q: What is your favorite part about judging at NAILE?
A: There are so many right answers to that, but I think for me, it’s just being a part of the prestigious green shavings. I have been very blessed in my life to judge every major in the country from OYE to all the Texas majors and California Cow Palace, but there is just something about Louisville. When you think about Louisville as a national show, we just came from the sheep barn, and there are sheep here from California, Maine, Michigan, Florida, and Texas. It is truly a national show and an honor to stand in the ring and evaluate. When judging showmanship on Friday, some of the best kids in the nation are here and you have 50+ young people in a class to think about the fact that there may be hundreds of banners and showmanship buckles those kids have won, and yet I have the responsibility to evaluate those kids and try to give them a fair, honest opinion. It is truly a humbling experience to stand in the ring on the green shavings.

Q: What is your most memorable moment as a judge?
A: Well, there are lots of them... I would have to say one that I remember the most was at a regional sheep show in the state of Tennessee. This young lady who was physically challenged showed Southdown sheep. She showed all day long, but she didn’t have a very good day, lots of pastel-colored ribbons and lots of earth-tone-colored ribbons. The show ends and as with most shows, all the young people and their families come up to thank the judge. After all that ended, here comes the young lady and her father. With all those pastels, brown and yellow-colored ribbons in her hands, she looked me right in the eyes and said these are the most beautiful ribbons I have ever seen. Of course, I cried like a baby, but it made me, as a judge, appreciate the fact that of all the good and bad we deal with in the livestock show world, that young lady, even though she may be challenged in life, really got what it is all about. It’s not about banners and winning, it’s about the development of these young people, making them responsible adults prepared for their careers. That is one memory that I will always have, and every time I walk in the ring, I think to myself, I hope these young people have a positive experience and leave appreciating the opportunity to participate in an activity like this. Particularly here at Louisville, on such a national level, to be involved with kids all over the nation who have the same passion, the same drive, and the same lifestyle they have is really a unique thing.

Q: What is the most important trait to succeed as a showman?
A: I think that one is really simple: I am a firm believer that no one wins shows at the shows; you win shows at home. The greatest thing that these young people can learn through shows is work ethic and responsibility. For example, if they are showing pigs, if you have a $50 pig and a $5000 barrow, that $5000 one can be dead last if that child doesn't go to the barn and put in the hours of work. It's the same thing with that $50 pig; maybe that is the most money they have ever spent on an animal, but if they put in the work and effort, maybe that $50 pig and all the time they put in allows that child to win showmanship. To me, it's what the young people learn at home in the barn that allows them to win showmanship.

Q: What is your favorite NAILE memory?
A: My favorite memory was the first time I got to judge at Louisville. The first time I ever stepped foot on the green shavings as a judge was for the Santa Gertrudis cattle show. Maybe it wasn’t the biggest, most prestigious show, but the memory I have of walking down the ramp, going into Freedom Hall, and going to the microphone for the first time with the feeling of that responsibility of judging at Louisville and in my home state, it was an honor to be asked to judge. When you are walking into that situation, it is a memory I will never forget.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to NAILE exhibitors?
A: My advice to any person coming to Louisville is you should come, you should experience it, but realize you are competing against the best in this country, not in your county, not in your state, not in your region, in the nation. There are elite showmen and elite animals that come, and they get the gate too, so just understand that the experience is far more critical to that young person, adult, breeder, or producer that is showing because you are comparing your animals with the best in this country, and that is a really big deal.