More than 200 teenagers from all throughout Southeastern Colorado competed at Branson on Wednesday in the FFA District and Regional Range Judging Contest.

Communities represented included La Veta, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Ordway, Florence, Rye, Aguilar, Karval, Kim, Springfield, Holly, Wiley, Las Animas, Lamar, Fowler, Hoehne, Branson and Cheraw.

The meet was conducted in silence during the indoor plant identification and also outdoors in the range judging. Any speaking or cheating would subject the perpetrator to instant disqualification, and the kids took it seriously.

“Don’t stand next to a buddy, someone you would be tempted to talk to or cheat off of,” said one of the judges as an indoor session on plant identification started.

This contest was difficult, especially when the range judging began. The contestants were divided into eight groups, with one group at a time visiting Site 1, the outdoor range-judging site.

This is the information furnished to each student:

Field 1 is being judged, and is entirely range land.

This pasture is 1,077 acres.

Rancher runs cow-calf pairs, and will not consider running any other kind of livestock.

Gates to adjoining pastures are kept open to allow continuous grazing.

The rancher grazes these pastures continuously all summer long, from June 1 to October 31.

The pasture is properly stocked.

This pasture is adequately watered, and salt and mineral are placed away from water tanks.

Animal performance is poor (i.e., low calf weaning weights and poor conception rates for the cows).

The students walked the pasture, observing what their foot landed on at the end of each stride. It could be litter, which is dead plant leaves and detached stems, live plants or dead plant centers, or bare ground. They had to identify grasses, forbs (flowering plants) and shrubs. At the end, they calculated the pasture vegetation by a mathematical formula and made a recommendation to the rancher for what would improve his livestock.

One of the judges was Lee Hollingsworth, current ag instructor at Branson, back by invitation after several years of retirement. He said, “Range land judging is hard, but a kid can make a living with it.“

How do they get so many students to participate? Hollingsworth continued, “I don’t give them any choice. I have three past champions who can’t compete again, but I make them do it, anyhow. And grade them on it.”

His first champion was Shawn Dougherty, now in college. The champions still in his class are Matt Dougherty, Tulara Nittler and Nathan Channing. “Each of these had an older brother or sister also in the program,” said Hollingsworth. “They help each other.”

Results of contests were sent by Andee Leininger:

1. Gold - Branson. Top 3 team members are: Brock Doherty, Ava Warner, McKenzie Riddle. Coach Mrs. Maral Howell

2. Silver - Hoehne. Top 3 team members are: Jason Malespini, Alex Mattorano, Sonny Raine. Coach Mr. Jesse Price

3. Bronze - Cheraw. Top 3 team members are: Heavenlee Marquez, Morgan Dowell, Sheridan Honey. Coach Mr. Tim Provost

Advanced Division:

1. Gold - Hoehne. Top 3 team members are: Josh Waller, Brandt Walton, with Jeremiah Montoya and Antonio Moltrer tying for 3rd on the team.

2. Silver - Branson. Top 3 team members are: Finn Warner, Ingrid Hofmeister, Grace Provost. Coach Mrs. Maral Howell.

3. Bronze - Fowler. Top 3 team members are: Kaley Pieper, Ashton Cash, Kolton Rains. Coach Mr. Brenten Ormiston.

The recipient of both the Top Plant ID Score, and Top Overall Combined Score, was Josh Waller from Hoehne. These two awards are the ones given by Society for Range Management (SRM) and were presented by Ben Berlinger who is the Colorado Section SRM Youth Activities Committee Chair.


Managing the meet in the field during the period observed were Natural Resource Conservancy Resources representatives Ryan Parker, originally from Rawlins, Wyoming, and Kelsey Price, now at the Walsenburg NRCS. Ben Berlinger of NRCS, the agriculture teachers from each town and volunteers from Branson were judges and assisted with the program. The Branson Schools provided a varied and healthful lunch for the group and did a myriad of other chores which make a big meet like this run smoothly.