Everyone knows that the best way to win a trip to Europe is by judging cows. OK, not everyone. But, that is how three Goodhue County 4-H'ers won a two-week trip to Ireland and Scotland.
Madelyn Wehe, Owen Scheffler and Jay Dicke have been around cattle the majority of their lives. Scheffler and Dicke grew up on dairy farms while Wehe has leased cattle for almost a decade. Their knowledge of cattle, paired with Scheffler's parents’ history of being award-winning cattle judges, led to the formation of a judging team for high school students comprising the three friends.
In competitions, teams are presented with classes of cows and heifers. They have to then rank them from best to worst. In the high school league, the teams have to give three reasons for their order.
To get ready for the State Fair, the Goodhue County team practiced every Tuesday starting in June. Each week, the team sees a new group of cattle, either from their farms or the farms of others. Once in a while, the team’s coaches will throw in a group that they had judged a few weeks ago and make them try to rank them in the same order.
Scheffler explained that the team’s practices “are kind of different from most dairy judging teams. Most dairy judging teams do a silent practice… and then they’ll maybe talk it over at the end.”
The local teens talk with one another throughout the process.
In 2018, the Goodhue County team took first place at the Minnesota State Fair. About a month after the fair, the national 4-H dairy judging competition began.
“So you’ll be going against Maryland, Florida, California, just all these different teams,” Dicke recalled.
At the national competition, the Goodhue County team lost first place by one point. But the top three teams were able to attend the Ireland and Scotland trip.
“It’s just kind of the glory to get first,” Dicke explained.
The students spent two weeks of July in Ireland, Scotland and England. During their time across the pond, the Goodhue County students, along with other winners and general livestock judges, toured farms, judged animals and did some sightseeing.
“The thing about those farmers over there is they’re very, very proud of what they do,” Shelper explained. The students recounted that had there not been a large group touring, and if their daily agendas were not full, the farmers would probably have kept them on the farm all day to talk about it.
While there are some similarities between the cows in Ireland/Scotland and the U.S., the differences are what were most memorable to the team.
“I think the main difference is the feeding,” Scheffler said.
Dicke agreed, saying that “their grass is better quality over there, it has more nutrients … that’s the thing. If they didn’t have good grass they wouldn’t have cows that produce milk.”
In the U.S., many cows are fed grass along with alfalfa, beans, corn, oats, and other foods. This results in higher levels of dairy production. According to Scheffler, above average cows produce about 20,000 pounds of milk in their lifetime. In the U.S., that number is 30,000 or more.
About a month after returning from Europe, the team is at the State Fair for the 2019 cattle judging contest.