Judging team participants realize benefits that pay dividends all life long
The National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Nearly two dozen university teams from coast to coast will travel to Madison to compete.
Spend a little time attending one of the youth-oriented judging contests held in conjunction with World Dairy Expo and you can’t help but walk away with the feeling that the future of the dairy industry is in very good hands. The enthusiasm, drive and commitment of the kids participating in these events is out-and-out contagious.
The lineup of judging contests is impressive in its own right. 4-H events include the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest and 4-H Quiz Bowl Invitational, while FFA conducts the Central National Dairy Products and Cattle Judging Contests, Forage Management Cup and FFA Showmanship Competition.
For college-level competition, there’s the National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest and the International Post-Secondary Cattle Judging Contest. There is also a World Dairy Expo Youth Showmanship Contest and, new this year, a Fitting Contest open to young people age 16 to 21.
While venues and contest rules make each of the contests unique, there is a unifying theme. Each is geared toward helping participants develop knowledge, skills and expertise that will serve them well when they step into the dairy industry workforce later in life.
“This is one of the most important extracurricular activities a young person can be involved in,” says Dr. David Selner, who retired last year after serving 25 years as superintendent of the National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest. “The skills the students learn here can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom setting. To do well, they have to be able to organize a lot of information quickly and accurately. They have to make a series of observations under pressure, be able to think on their feet and then make an oral presentation about their conclusions to someone they’ve never met before. Those kinds of skills are highly valued by industry employers.”
Nate Janssen, Laurie Winkelman, Katharine Knowlton and Mike Barnes agree. Like Selner, they participated in the National Intercollegiate contest during college, and each continues to value the experience.
Janssen, the dairy operations manager at Golden Oaks Farm in Wauconda, Ill., says, “I am a shy and reserved person by nature, but giving hundreds of sets of reasons translated into confidence, which helps with my position today. Being able to communicate with others and express opinions in an organized fashion is essential. One of my favorite parts of the job is giving tours and talking to groups about the dairy industry. This has become second nature now, largely due to the fact that I learned to express myself at a young age.”
Winkelman was awarded as the High Individual in the 2000 National 4-H and 2002 National Intercollegiate contests. A graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., she now coaches 4-H and collegiate teams and is a part-time classifier for the Brown Swiss Association—“an opportunity I would not have had without judging experience,” she says.
“Dairy judging has opened a lot of doors and introduced me to many people. Those who taught and coached me over the years are truly invaluable assets to the industry. I feel lucky to have been taught by Dr. Dave Dickson, even after he ‘retired.’ I remember a ‘discussion’ I had with him about a cow’s rump. Needless to say, I walked away the loser—but wiser—because you can’t contend with the man who coached more teams to victories in oral reasons than any other!”
Knowlton and Barnes are now Dr. Knowlton and Dr. Barnes. Both are members of the Virginia Tech Department of Dairy Science faculty and together have coached Virginia Tech teams to three national titles since 2006.
Dave Selner (left), National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest superintendent for 25 years, offers advice to his successor, Corey Geiger, who is also a former contest participant.
When asked how her personal experience impacted her career path, Knowlton responds, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that being on the Cornell dairy judging team changed the direction and course of my life. I learned that hard work pays off, criticism won’t kill you, and there’s no point in saying what you think someone else wants you to say. Throughout our lives, each of us has to take the heat for our own decisions.
“On the judging team, I also had a lot of fun and met some great people. It led to graduate school, where Cliff Jump and Lee Majeskie were generous enough to let me help with their teams. I’ve been lucky to be able to continue coaching at Virginia Tech, passing these lessons on,” she adds.
Barnes notes, “From a personal standpoint, being a member of the UConn judging team afforded me innumerable career opportunities, from gaining staff and faculty positions and coaching judging teams at three different universities to opportunities to travel and consult worldwide. Unquestionably, the thing that I value most about the judging team/coaching experience is the opportunity to work so
closely with so many highly motivated college students in the past 40 years. Cattle judging is a very effective tool in teaching and developing important life and career skills such as concentration and self-discipline, quick problem-solving, decision making and logical, organized, oral-justification skills.
“It is these attributes that are most valuable and important and continue to make the judging team experience invaluable and highly desirable to potential employers,” Barnes concludes.
Selner concurs. He summarizes his involvement in the contest, stating, “I stayed with it through the years in part because it was so enjoyable working with all the wonderful volunteers. But mostly it was the students. They have such tremendous enthusiasm. How could anyone not love having the chance to be a part of something like this? It’s been great.”