Yeah, you heard right. I’m judging dairy cows! Well, not anymore exactly. Let me start at the beginning.
In animal agriculture, there are several different ‘judging’ events. You can do livestock, horse, meats, dairy and now even animal welfare judging. Except for the last one, all of these events are based on the historical need for farmers to be able to pick the best animals based on what they look like. You can tell which pigs will have the biggest loin eye, which horses will last the longest on the race circuit and which cows will milk the most based on their appearance (most of the time). This skill is still important when selecting animals, but it also makes a great competitive event. Those individuals who are better at telling the best animals from the worst animals win!
So, as I said earlier, my focus for the last five years or so has been on dairy judging. While I grew up as a livestock judge (I came from a pig farm!), I made the transition my freshman year at Michigan State thanks to the guidance of a great judging coach and teacher, Dr. Joe Domecq. He was willing to take a pig girl and turn her into a first-class dairy judge. Thanks to him, I can tell you all about this great event!
In dairy judging, competitors are given a class of four cows and they have to rank them best to worst. There is criteria to go by, known as the Dairy Unified Score Card. Different parts of the cow are awarded different numbers of points based on how important they are–the udder is worth 40 points, dairy strength is worth 25 points, feet and legs are worth 20 points and body capacity is worth 15 points. This second part of the contest requires competitors to justify why they placed the cows the way they did; these are called oral reasons. Oral reasons are the part of the contest that really teaches youth confidence, public speaking skills and how to defend a decision you make–all skills that are transferrable into the real world.
This year, I became dairy judging alumni. I had lots of highlights over my judging career–the best being a perfect score of 50 on my oral reasons last year at World Dairy Expo–but now I’ve switched roles so I can help the next group of teams. In Michigan, we train all of our teams for the national contests–the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa., World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisc. and the North American International Livestock Expo (NAILE) in Louisville, Ky.–together as one giant group. That includes three different 4-H teams, the MSU ag technology team and the MSU collegiate team. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn from each other.
I’m so glad that I got the chance to go through such a great judging program. I’ve made some awesome friends and have gotten to travel to some awesome places, including Europe, because of dairy judging. I’m glad that I can help by listening to oral reasons and working with younger judges so they can have the same great experience I had.