Michigan 4-H Youth Dairy Days and Michigan Dairy Expo return to the MSU Pavilion, July 18-22

Join 4-H youth and dairy enthusiasts to demonstrate skills and celebrate Michigan dairy cattle, and dairy producers.

Two county 4-H teams enjoy the Dairy Quiz Bowl contest.
Two county 4-H teams enjoy the Dairy Quiz Bowl contest. Photo credit: Melissa Elischer

Michigan 4-H Youth Dairy Days and the Michigan Dairy Expo return to the Michigan State University (MSU) Pavilion for Agricultural and Livestock Education July 18-22, to celebrate the best of the Michigan dairy industry. This weeklong event provides youth a place to showcase their skills and time for dairy enthusiasts of any age to enjoy cattle shows and reconnect with each other.

The week begins with youth moving their cattle into the Pavilion Monday afternoon and fitting the cows and heifers for youth showmanship and breed shows on Tuesday morning. Showmanship and breed shows provide a space for youth to demonstrate their cattle handling skills, talk about the animals they have been raising and working with, and showcase the animals they own or lease. The showmanship contest starts early Tuesday morning when youth of similar ages compete against each other. One winner from each class is named, who will then compete for Grand Champion Showperson and earn an exhibition spot during the Sale-A-Bration. Breed shows follow showmanship. Typically, all seven breeds of dairy cattle recognized by the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (PDCA) are exhibited at Dairy Days. The seven PDCA breeds are: Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White. The Grand Champion Cow and Grand Champion Heifer are also exhibited at the Sale-A-Bration. 

After showmanship and breed shows conclude for the day, youth may opt to participate in the State Dairy Cattle Management/Skillathon Contest. There are three age categories for this event; novice (8-11 years-old), junior (9-14 years-old) and senior (15-19 years-old). During this contest, youth demonstrate their vast dairy science knowledge by answering questions about numerous topics. This may include identifying physiological structure, correctly identifying dairy management tools, knowing the correct milking procedure order, identifying feed samples, and much more. The top ten individuals and top five teams in each age group are recognized at the Celebration Picnic on Thursday evening. The highest placing senior team earns the opportunity to represent Michigan at the national Junior Dairy Management Contest held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during the All-American Dairy Show.

Wednesday is the state Dairy Cattle Judging Contest. Dairy judging builds multiple skills for youth, both those directly related to cattle evaluation and overall life skills. Judging consists of evaluating a class of four animals, either cows or heifers, and ranking them from the most ideal animal to the least desirable animal based on the PDCA scorecard and breed characteristics.  For some classes, youth will need to prepare and present a set of oral reasons, which is a short speech justifying their placing of a class, to a judge. Judging helps youth to learn about structurally correct cattle, but more importantly, helps them with critical thinking, decision- making, building confidence, communication, and self-esteem. Similar to the management contest, there are three age divisions for judging. The top ten individuals in both the novice and junior are recognized, as well as the highest placing teams. For the seniors, the top 25 youth are recognized and invited to additional workouts over the summer to earn their place on a national 4-H judging team representing Michigan at either the All-American Dairy Show, World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, or the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) in Louisville, Kentucky.

Thursday closes the 4-H competitions for the week with the state 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl Contest.  Youth compete in one of three age divisions in a fast-paced, buzzer-style game to earn points for their team to advance to the next round. New for 2022, youth in the senior division will start the day with a multiple-choice test to seed the teams in the double-elimination bracket. Junior and novice teams are randomly assigned the night before. Questions may come from any aspect of dairy science, such as physiology, history, breed information, management practices, and much more. The ten highest scoring seniors will earn the opportunity to be part of the team representing Michigan at the National 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl Contest held during NAILE. The top ten will be determined based on their score on the multiple-choice test and number of correctly answered questions in the contest rounds.

To celebrate all the youth participants and recognize contest winners, a celebration picnic dinner is held Thursday evening. All the awards from the Management, Judging and Quiz Bowl contests are shared, as well as the high rank and reserve high rank overall junior and senior participants. These two youth earn a $1,000 (high rank) and $750 (reserve high rank) scholarship for post-secondary education or to purchase cattle. A youth must compete in at least three of the four events held during the week to be eligible.

For more information or questions, please contact Michigan State University Extension 4-H Dairy Educator Melissa Elischer at elischer@msu.edu.

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