Show judge Grame Hopf carries a bag of bones around in the boot of his car, and sometimes an esky of organs.
But don’t get the wrong impression. This veteran of 800 agricultural shows in Australia and 156 overseas events uses these props to demonstrate correct structure of animals and he is passionate about sharing that knowledge.
“People judge an animal on its cosmetic appearance but it’s what’s under the skin that counts,” he said.
His quote aptly describes himself, and the juvenile delinquents he cares for on his farm at Murwillumbah. At age 16 Mr Hopf was at a loose end, living like a street kid and sleeping in derelict buildings at Kings Cross.
But he was far from a dead loss. The stubborn youngster hung around the Sydney Agricultural Show at Moore Park, just a short walk away, and was encouraged by the likes of shorthorn breeder and returned prisoner of way Rick Pisatoro, an Italian immigrant, who could see potential in the young upstart’s assessment of cattle.
Three years later Mr Pisatoro arranged for a 19 year old Mr Hopf to judge Simmental cattle in Rhodesia. That was the start of a long international career that took him to 14 countries.
“Australia had accepted Rick and I think he was looking to return the favour,” said Mr Hopf on reflection. “I was lucky enough to be that person.”
Mr Hopf can judge beef as well as poultry and pigs but prefers milkers, perhaps because he grew up on a North Coast dairy farm at Mullumbimby in the early 1950s.
At the time the coastal farming system had a complete barnyard of species, with milk skimmed of its cream fed to porkers for slaughter at Byron Bay while summer paddocks of corn provided nutrient for chooks, with big meat birds dressed especially for Christmas.
Like a lot of dairy farmers, a young Mr Hopf could see the value in a good female line and today bases his breeding on that motto.
“It is also important to judge cattle keeping in mind where you are geographically,” he said. “A Brahman bull in Rockhampton will be assessed differently to one on the North Coast.”
Chooks are rewarding in that they can produce two chicks a years so traits are modified quickly. And when it comes to judging he said poultry were the most stringent with a written, exact standard out of 100, whereas beef are judged according to their region.
Mr Hopf’s delinquent charges often learn to love animals by dealing with chooks. “The kids lose interest with cattle because they’re so much slower,” he said. “But those kids who can’t look after the chooks, and feed them everyday well, they don't stay in my welfare system. I tend to lose them back to the street, and ice.”
Meanwhile the traditional country show circuit continues to provide terrific social release and those students of his who pay attention can find themselves on a life-long journey.
Mr Hopf recalls vividly his first show win, with a bantam, at Bangalow Show aged six. This year at the same venue he repeated the feat, the judge himself judged to breed the best.