When it comes to dairy judging, Maryland 4-H is known as quite the powerhouse, churning out teams that perform consistently well at state, regional and national competitions. Earlier this month, the Maryland 4-H dairy judging team netted its 31st national championship since 1919 at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. The team from Maryland has taken home first place at the World Dairy Expo three out of the last five years.
“We have a lot of support at the state, county and farm level for this program and it’s neat to see because we do have quite a tradition of doing very well in this contest,” said Kiera Finucane, coordinator of dairy and beef Extension activities for the University of Maryland.
Maryland’s 2013 4-H Dairy Judging Team consists of 17-year-old Ian Doody from Damascus, Md.; 17-year-old Julia Doody from Damascus, Md.; 17-year-old Courtney Hoff from New Windsor, Md. and 18-year-old Cassidy Schirmer from Galena, Md. Finucane served as the team’s coach alongside Anne Davis of Union Bridge, Md.
In order to represent Maryland 4-H at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, the members had to earn a spot on the team by going through a series of dairy judging competitions held throughout the 11 days of the Maryland State Fair in August.
To the untrained eye, dairy judging may seem as simple as staring at a group of cows and determining which is prettiest. However, those familiar with these contests understand that a successful team prepares for months by studying breeds, developing analytical skills and practicing public speaking. In order to effectively “judge” dairy cattle, students must be able to look at a group of four cows and rank them according to the characteristics considered ideal within their breeds. Team members must know specific physical and behavioral traits to look out for as they only have a matter of minutes to make their decisions.
Students are also asked to verbally explain why they’ve made their rankings – a portion of the competition called Oral Reasons. In addition to being named overall winners of the competition, the team from Maryland 4-H also took home first place in Oral Reasons at the 2013 World Dairy Expo. “Oral Reasons is really a point of pride for Maryland. We usually do very well in that category,” says Finucane.
Dairy judging is rooted in rich tradition in the state of Maryland with many of the youth competing in today’s contests following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Yet not all students involved in the Maryland 4-H dairy program come from farming backgrounds. Many are exposed to the dairy industry through the state’s animal leasing program which allows youth to use animals owned by farmers for various 4-H projects. “Our farmers continue to open their doors and allow these kids to come in and see their cattle and their operations,” says Finucane. “Our students are going to leave the program with this appreciation and understanding for the dairy industry and it really opens doors for careers in agricultural fields.”
For finishing in the top three at the World Dairy Expo, the Maryland 4-H Dairy Judging Team will be invited to compete in the international Royal Highland Show held in Scotland next summer. The team will spend roughly two weeks in Europe traveling through England, Ireland and Scotland. “We do a lot during the trip to expose the students to agriculture as well as just culture internationally,” says Finucane. “Hopefully they come away with a lot of life lessons from it.”
The fundraising race is on for Finucane and the rest of the team who need to come up with nearly $30,000 in travel expenses to make the trip in June. For more information on the Maryland 4-H Dairy program, please visit http://ansc.umd.edu/extension/dairy/4h. (Pictured above: Maryland 4-H Dairy Judging Team members enjoy celebratory ice cream after winning first place overall at the 2013 World Dairy Expo.)