Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

State has top dairy judges

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 07/21/2011 9:49 AM

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OWATONNA, Minn. — Two dairy judging teams from Minnesota placed in the top three at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland, last month.

A team of two from the Owatonna FFA placed first and a duo from Winona County 4-H placed third in the high school division. A team from California placed second, two members of the team that edged out Owatonna by 11 points to earn top honors at the National FFA Convention last fall.

Winning top honors for Owatonna FFA were Kelsey Mussman and Andrew Kern, who placed third and fifth overall individually. Winning top honors for Winona 4-H were Aaron Thesing of Winona and Nick Reps of Lewiston.

The Owatonna team advanced to the International Dairy Judging Contest by placing second at the National FFA Convention. The team includes Mussman, who will be a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the fall; Kern, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls; Matt Thamert, who's in the Army; and Travis Thamert, who will be a senior at Owatonna High School in the fall.

The Winona County team advanced by placing fourth at the National 4-H Dairy Contest at World Dairy Expo last fall. They won the state 4-H dairy judging contest last year, said team coach Keith Brogan.

The team includes Thesing, Reps, Pete Schell of Lewiston and Andrew Hornberg of Winona. Schell is a 2010 high school graduate. Thesing, Reps and Hornberg all 2011 high school graduates.

Last year was the first year the four judged together on one team, Brogan said. They had been judging on different teams for six years and earned their spots on the county's senior team last summer.

It was the first time ever that a team from Winona County competed in the judging contest at the Royal Highland Show, Brogan said.

"There was a lot of excitement (before the team went) and there's been a lot of excitement since they got back too," he said.

The team left June 22 on the 2011 International Livestock Judging Tour. They pulled back into the fairgrounds in St. Charles on July 5 just after the open class dairy show. They've been at the fairgrounds since as the fair officially opened July 6 and ran through July 10. A welcome back celebration was held at the fair for the team on July 8.

The Owatonna FFA team will likely be recognized at the Steele County Free Fair in August. They were the fifth Steele County team to judge at the Royal Highland Show, but the first to place.

Coach Ken Kern said he told the kids to have fun, but he didn't expect them to do so well as they were judging against the top teams from throughout the country.

"They were the top talking team there," Kern said. They earned the most points of any team competing in the high school, junior college and college level.

The competition was a bit different in Scotland compared to the United States. They were briefed on those changes the day before they judged.

Perhaps the greatest change was the time. Whereas teams are generally given 12 to 15 minutes to judge a class in the United States, they had four minutes at the Scotland competition.

"I thought it was kind of fun watching the quick pace," Brogan said. There is no time to second guess a decision, he said. The judges had to make a quick decision and go with it to allow time to get notes down for reasons.

They judged four classes — two Holstein classes and one each of Jersey and Ayrshire — and gave two sets of reasons. Cows are ranked A, B, X, Y instead of 1, 2, 3, 4.

When they gave those reasons, they were allowed to refer to their notes, a no-no in the United States. Reasons are a two-minute extemporaneous speech on why they placed the cattle as they did, Kern said.

They dressed in white lab coats to judge and stood in the middle of the cattle. They were also allowed to touch the cattle. In the United States, a youth dairy judge is disqualified if he or she touches an animal.

What they look for in cows in Scotland is also a little different than the United States, Mussman said. They put more emphasis on a cow's head overseas. They want large nostrils, alert ears and a bright-eyed perkier animal.

In the United States, emphasis is placed on legs and udders, Brogan said.

The cows looked pretty similar. They use United States and Canadian bulls in their herds.

In Luxembourg, the dairy judges helped out and judged at the Luxembourg National Show. Winona County's Schell placed third in dairy judging at that show.

A pick of flush from Castel James Jolie was the top seller at the show, bringing $35,000 euros. She's the biggest name show cow in Europe.

Both teams were on the same judging tour as all of the dairy judging teams from the United States traveled together.

"We made a lot of new friends and got to meet people with similar interests," Mussman said.

The tour took the dairy judges to six countries: Scotland, England, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. It was set up by Agrotours, Inc., of Richmond, Va.