Veteran judge keeps Dairy Goat Show flowing at Manatee County Fair

PALMETTO -- Judge Gordon Johnson acknowledged he's heard all the jokes in his 40 years at the Manatee County Fair.

"Yep, 'I'm just an old goat,'" he said, smiling between rounds Tuesday at the 2015 Dairy Goat Show. "They called this the' Udder Delight Dairy Goat Club' ... I've probably heard all of them."

Johnson not only was judging showmanship, he also was teaching it, speaking quietly to each of nine junior competitors, ages 8 to 10, about the subtleties of showing animals.

With more than a dozen intermediate contestants, he reminded the 11- to 13-year-olds about past tips they'd picked up showing their Saanen, Oberhalsi, Nubian, La Mancha, Nigerian dwarfs and Alpine breeds.

"I liked, when I spoke to her, that she knew the parts of the animal. ... that he held the animal so that when the judge touches it, he doesn't get bit ..." Pushing back his black, felt cowboy hat, he turned to the audience of more than 75 and said, almost as an aside: "I've known it to happen."

He spent an extra minute or two consoling a participant whose balky entry refused to take another step after the promenade.

"There's some that just don't walk," he said knowingly to the officials table.

By the time the seniors, ages 14 to 18, paraded into the sandy arena to the applause of the enthusiastic crowd, Johnson had begun instructing the audience about how he approached judging.

"How many of you seniors have seen me before?" he asked.

All 13 contestants raised their hands..

"Two times?"

Again, all kept their hands up.

"Three times?"

This time, many indicated yes, and the audience chuckled collectively.

"Four times? Five times?"

There were a few.

"You see," he said, turning his attention back to the onlookers, "these contestants know what a judge likes to see by now and they're smart ... they make it easy for me to make a choice ... because again, showmanship is about the kid and not about the animal. And these are some great kids."