Animal judging – Dairy

This series of articles will introduce animal judging – what it is, the life skills it helps youth to develop, where it can take youth and why everyone should try it!

Participants of the 2014 4-H Dairy Judging Team at World Dairy Expo displaying the great rewards of partaking in animal judging activities.
Participants of the 2014 4-H Dairy Judging Team at World Dairy Expo displaying the great rewards of partaking in animal judging activities.

This is the fourth article in a series by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension discussing how animal judging benefits 4-H members now and in all their future endeavors. Joe Domecq, Academic Specialist, Coordinator and Advisor of the Ag Tech Dairy Management Program in the Department of Animal Science, and coach of the collegiate, Ag Tech and 4-H dairy judging teams provides insight on the Michigan dairy judging program. Domecq has been coaching the Ag Tech team since 1991, the collegiate team since 1995 and the 4-H team since 1998. He began assisting with the MSU judging teams while he was completing his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Animal Science in 1990. Previous to coaching the Michigan teams, Domecq judged as a youth in his home state of California, as an undergraduate student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and as graduate student at Virginia Tech.

Melissa: Can you briefly describe what dairy judging is?

Domecq: The cow part of dairy judging is evaluating a class of four animals against each other, ranking them best to worst. The PDCA Scorecard outlines the major traits to evaluate in order to determine the placing. Most dairy judging contests will have ten or more classes and three or more sets of oral reasons. Oral reasons are a short, persuasive speech the judging team member must present to an official to convince the official why the team member’s placing is correct. Now, there is a lot more to judging than just the cow part and oral reasons. The skills that develop from judging and delivering reasons are really what make judging special. The cows attract the kids and get them interested, but it is everything else they learn besides the cow part that makes judging really special.

Melissa: As a coach, what are the biggest benefits you see for individuals who judge?

Domecq: Life skills; there are so many life skills youth develop when they judge. Two big ones are decision making and communication skills. The kids will use those skills their entire lives. Networking, travel in-state, and the opportunity to see and do so many different things outside of Michigan that comes with judging are invaluable teaching experiences for 4-H, Ag Tech or college kids. Learning to be a gracious winner and loser is another big lesson from judging. Everyone likes to win in life, but how do you handle those losses, how do handle seeing friends lose when you win or visa versa? That’s another very valuable skill to have. Judging does provide a greater understanding of the cow and the dairy industry, but again, judging is not about the cows, it’s about all the other benefits and opportunities for young people to grow and expand their horizons.

Melissa: What has been your favorite part of coaching?

Domecq: Watching the dairy judging program come full circle. I see the kids grow and progress from just getting starting at about ten years old, through college and begin their careers. I see them mature into good people and good adults who then turn around to support the program by helping teach the next generation of dairy judges or by working with kids in other ways. I’m starting to have the kids of my first Ag Tech and college teams coming through 4-H now, which is very exciting.

Melissa: Does the team travel? If so, where?

Domecq: Yes, there are four big out-of-state trips every year, plus numerous practices all over Michigan. Before picking the final judging teams, we travel to Maryland State Fair Labor Day weekend for an extensive judging workout. This year the kids watched thre open breed shows consisting of 150 animals, judged 27 classes and delivered 13 sets of oral reasons. All the kids – 4-H, Ag Tech and college – work very hard, are very dedicated and very excited about judging. All three teams judge at the All American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, PA in the middle of September, World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI at the end of September and the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY in November. Traveling allows the youth to see new parts of the country, network with dairy peers and professionals from all over, and expand their horizons to new possibilities they never saw before. Some of the teams have traveled to Europe and judged overseas, which is an amazing opportunity! I judged as a 4-H member in California and it was because of dairy judging that I first left the state. I have traveled all over the U.S. and Europe because of it. Every kid can have that opportunity at some level if they are willing to put in the work and are passionate about it. The best things in life take work, they are not handed out, and judging and the opportunities related to it are no different.

Melissa: Besides content knowledge about dairy cows, what other skills are developed in judging that will benefit individuals outside of the arena?

Domecq: Confidence. The ability to speak publicly and convincingly. The ability to organize thoughts and relate them to others. Those are just a few of the countless benefits and skills kids develop in judging.

Melissa: What career possibilities can come from dairy judging?

Domecq: Very few people actually use the cows skills related to judging to make a living. Some can and do, and might become a cattle evaluator for example. Communication and life skills are much more important than the actual cow stuff. The life skills developed through judging will be used every day and are what employers are really looking for. The cow part or almost any part of content knowledge can be taught to the right candidate, and often the right candidate is the one who has excellent communication skills, is confident, makes decisions, works well as an individual and can support a team, etc. I look at the bigger picture; the cows lead to something greater for the kids when they are done judging, something they will use every day in life.

Melissa: What if a 4-H member wants to start judging before attending college, where should they start learning about and practicing judging?

Domecq: There are countless resources on the web to look at, but what kids really need is a mentor. Find someone, an adult or older teen, who works with youth and who knows judging is about more than looking at cows; it’s about developing a well-rounded, confident individual. Ask this person for help, to teach and to guide through the cows stuff so the content knowledge is there, but really work to build the kids, help them grow. A lot of younger judges are scared to death to talk to someone about their placing, so make it a welcoming environment, a conversation so they are comfortable and confident, and then work to make it more formal. Once kids do get involved and work through the public speaking fear, they learn its fun and come along with judging. It is a great experience for everyone – the youth who are developing into a great adult, and the adults who help guide the youth to get there.

Melissa: Would you recommend 4-H youth try judging before they go to college?

Domecq: Yes! All the degrees and all the classes in the world are great, but there is nothing like the experience and knowledge that comes from judging. It doesn’t matter if the kids judge cows, horses, pigs, soil or whatever. Get out there and judge. It is a progression, step-by-step to teach and learn in a certain way; a method to approach making decisions or solving problems. Communication skills, the chance to travel and see the world, networking, meeting people, see, do, and learn all from judging. This is something I am very passionate and excited about and I want to share that. It’s the people part of cow judging that I love. It’s the people.

Melissa: Thank you Dr. Domecq for taking the time to share your experiences as the dairy judging coach at MSU.

Next in the series will be an interview with Mr. Adam Conover, coach of the livestock judging team. Other articles in this series include Animal welfare judging and assessment and horse judging.

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