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Dairy judging team places high

November 1, 2007

The UW-River Falls dairy judging team has been placing high in competitions this semester, staying consistent with past years of competition.

The senior members took first place at the All-American Invitational Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in Harrisburg, Penn. The sophomore members took third place at the Accelerated Genetics Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in Viroqua, Wis., and the junior members have yet to compete in Louisville, Ky., this fall.

The team has typically been in the top 10 nationally, Steve Kelm said.

Kelm has been coaching the team for 10 years.

“Our senior group has been extremely consistent,” he said.

The senior members have been very easy to work with, as they are similar in their approach to judging and evaluation, Kelm said.

“They were always on the same page,” he said.

Students begin their judging careers by taking the Introduction to Dairy Cattle Evaluation course the spring of their freshman year. The next fall, students take the advanced course. Students can begin competing when they become sophomores.

“It’s fairly competitive to get on the team,” Drew Johnson, who has judged for three years, said.

At a competition, students need to be familiar with many different breeds of dairy cattle, including Holsteins, Guernseys and Ayrshires, Johnson said.

Team members also need to be efficient in public speaking and visual evaluation when competing, he said.

Students place 10 classes and give oral reasons for five of those classes one on one with a judge at a competition. They are given 20 minutes to prepare their reasons, he said.

When students first arrive on campus, their strongest part of competition is in overall evaluation skills. This comes from participating in organizations such as 4-H and FFA, Kelm said.

By the time students leave, however, oral reasoning becomes their strongest aspect in the competitions.

“We work a lot on reasons,” he said.

As the coach, he concentrates the most on the overall structure of oral reasons:  providing a persuasive argument and justification, making sure the reasons are easy to follow and understand, and getting the main points across while displaying proper public speaking skills.

The members of the team have worked around and altered schedules to take part in practices and competitions.

“I’ve been just super impressed by everyone’s dedication,” Kelm said.

Practices include going to a farm and placing a class, then giving their oral reasons to Kelm.

“He’s a really, really good coach,” Johnson said. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Kelm makes sure that everyone sees what needs to be seen in a cattle class and that oral reasons present the information that needs to be given, Johnson said.

A class session is also held once a week. By being a member of the dairy judging team, students can also earn one credit of independent study, Johnson said.

There are 20-22 individuals who practice with the team, but groups of only four are allowed to compete. By the end of the year, 12 individuals have the chance to compete nationally. Because of this, team members “take turns” and work together for competitions.

“As a group, they’ve just had a general desire to help each other,” Kelm said.

Johnson is done competing, as a student can only compete in a collegiate competition once. He will, though, continue to practice with the team, he said, until he graduates.

The team will continue to do well in future competitions, Johnson said.

“There’s a lot of good judges coming up,” he said. “It should be a promising future.”