When picturing the “cattle barn” at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, it is not a stretch to imagine a barn filled with youth exhibitors, spectators and cattle. While the exhibitors and spectators are a constant throughout the multi-week show, the species found in the barn is not. 

On Feb. 8, a winding trail of white feathers littering the artificial turf inside the cattle barn led to poultry judge Daniel De León hard at work selecting the top birds. 

De León, a doctoral student in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Poultry Science, awaited the market turkey hen exhibitors at the annual major livestock show. 

Although De León, a first-generation college student, will graduate with a doctorate in May, a piece of his heart still lies in judging poultry. 

A man, Daniel de Leon, examining a chicken held by a child in a show ring

Paving the way

De León grew up in Hondo, a San Antonio-area town of 8,289 people. He did not compete with his first animals until eighth grade when he became involved with FFA. 

“One of my ag teachers asked, ‘What do you show?’” De León recalled. “I didn’t know what he was talking about.”

A switch flipped for De León once he was introduced to poultry judging. His skills quickly earned him a $10,000 scholarship from the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. De León was on his way to college – something he never expected to happen.

“I want to give back. I have the chance to provide today’s youth some of the same opportunities I had.”

Daniel De León
Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Department of Poultry Science doctoral student

Winning them over

“Growing up, I didn’t really think about college at all,” he said. “I have grandparents who barely got out of grade school, my parents graduated high school, and now my siblings and I are in college.”

Now that De León has come full circle, from his San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo scholarship to judging at the same show years later, he wants to do his part to encourage future generations.

“I want to give back,” De León said. “I have the chance to provide today’s youth some of the same opportunities I had.”

Ruling the roost

The dedicated doctoral student believes education is a key component to the livestock exhibition process.

Having been an exhibitor himself, De León takes a different approach to the judging process now that he is on the other side of the ring. His approach as judge is different from others in the livestock show industry. 

“I knew that anytime I judged a show, I would take the time to talk to all the kids showing,” De León said.

He feels that sometimes the exhibitors do not receive appropriate feedback regarding their animals and showmanship. De León makes it a point to converse with each exhibitor and pass on the knowledge he possesses to the next generation.

Daniel De Leon kneeling in a barn holding a baby chick

Leading future generations

As De León walked from one end of the ring to the other, exhibitor’s faces watched his every step as they prepared to hold their birds for inspection, hoping their turkeys would not flap once picked up, leaving a flurry of feathers on the turf.

De León is looking to the private sector once he has his doctorate with a focus in intestinal health and applied nutrition. But his love for agriculture and education keeps him involved in the poultry judging process.

Daniel De Leon speaking to a small boy while examining a chicken
A hand with an Aggie ring holding a chicken
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