4 Lessons Dairy Judging Taught Me

I started judging dairy cattle through the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association when I was 10. I remember going to practices once a week, listening to the older juniors give reasons and being terrified to have to do that, I remember going over the basics with my coach every practice and asking a lot of questions. Since then not much has changed, I still went to regular practices, I still asked a lot of questions, I still practiced my reasons, a bit more vigorously though and we still regularly went over the basics. But in the 10 years of my judging career I definitely learned a lot, and not just what a good cow looks like.

Public Speaking

One of the biggest benefits I got from my years of dairy judging was becoming comfortable talking to complete strangers. And trust me, I was not always good at this (although many would say I can talk until I run out of air). It wasn’t actually until I started collegiate judging that I started to get comfortable. I decided to really buckle down; I listened to the senior’s sets of reasons, I asked for advice from my coaches and I was my biggest critic.

As I became older my reasons got better and better, I became the WI Holstein Association Princess in 2012 where I had to talk to the public constantly. On my first public appearance I realized I wasn’t even nervous because I figured, what I said to them was what I felt was the truth and what was my own opinion, if they disagreed, well so be it but hopefully I convinced them otherwise. And when I realized, that’s exactly what I do in reasons!

To relate this to the “real world”, back in October I had my first big girl interview. I traveled to Indianapolis for 8 interviews in one day and to present a power point all about myself to a conference room filled with other candidates and interviewers. Now I don’t know about you, but I think the most awkward thing to talk about is yourself. But as I started my presentation, I realized many of the other candidates seemed a lot more nervous than I. When I got to the page in my presentation about extra curricular activities, judging was the first thing that came up, I smiled and felt a overwhelming calm because I had done this plenty before. The only difference was that in judging I’m selling a cows udder, dairyness, strength, etc. and in this I was selling my intelligence, my passion, my abilities and my personality. And in case you were wondering…(drum roll please) I got the job!

Be Consistent in your Efforts

“Practices makes perfect.” Cliché I know…but if you have ever judged in a contest or even at a show, I am sure you know that perfection rarely occurs. But practice can get you pretty consistent and get you close to that “perfect contest”. During our judging season we had practices every weekend, like, I didn’t even make it to a football game this year (my liver is thanking you coaches), and we had at minimum one reasons practice during the week. So to say the least, it consumes your life for the first half of the semester. However, on behalf of my entire team, I believe we are more than thankful for all this time spent on the Bucky Bus and traveling throughout the Mid-West.

Our first contest, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we took second place team overall and first place tam in oral reasons. We took this momentum to the next step. As a senior your dream is to judge at World Dairy Expo, our team not only had the privilege to judge on the color shavings but also to win the contest! We became National Champions.

I was overwhelmed by our team but even more when I was announced as the High Individual Overall. Practice and being around my teammates made us all think in a very consistent manor and all that hard work and dedication definitely paid off in the end. We were on cloud nine, well, still are!

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Coach Brian Kelroy, myself, Cassie Endres, Mackenzie Cash, Mariah Fjarlie & Coach Chad Wethal

http://dysci.wisc.edu/uw-madison-dairy-judging/

Gain Connections

After being announced as the High Individual of the contest I was walking to receive my award when a coach from a different team stepped out to shake my hand and said to me, “Your grandfather managed my family’s herd dispersal and I can tell you right now, he would be so proud of you.” As you can imagine; that’s when the tears started flowing. But this was also the moment I was so incredibly grateful to be apart of such a close-knit industry.

Our team was fortunate enough to become quite close with the team from Cornell. Being able to meet others competing in the same contests is half the fun. These are the people I will be working with as I grow in my career. Everyone at these contests have very similar passions and it’s a great opportunity to get to know other individuals who you know you will be running into later on in life.

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The UW-Madison and Cornell team took first and second at the national contest and we needed to get a picture together!

And finally, after the contest it was amazing the amount of people congratulating us and introducing themselves to us. It was a great honor to win, but I think it was a greater honor to be able to meet so many influential leaders within the dairy industry who wanted to congratulate us. If I could give any advice to those in collegiate dairy judging it would be to take the great opportunity it gives you to meet others within the dairy industry. Get to know the farmers of the operations you visit, your competitors, team members and coaches, the officials of contest and those that are working in the barn.

Stay Positive

Just like anything you attempt in life, you may have some off days. I can remember in a practice this fall we were in Illinois and it was hot and sunny and we were all a bit tired. For some reason I just did not see the cows the way my teammates or coaches did, and to be honest I was pissed. Not at my coaches or at my teammates but at myself. I mean why didn’t I see it that way?! However, I did have reasons for the way I placed it and when I told my coaches they agreed that that also made sense but they would still disagree with my placing.

Well how many times do you go to a show and hear someone disagree with the placing? Quite often. But that’s the perk about being the judge; on that day it’s your opinion. As long as you are confident in what you saw you can’t take what others say directly to heart. Everyone has their right to their own opinion!

Through dairy judging I’ve learned many life lessons, but these four have stuck with me throughout the past 10 years. If you or anyone you know may have an interest in this traditional dairy activity I encourage you to join and take advantage of all the opportunities dairy judging brings your way!

Oh and ON WISCONSIN!

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The seniors of the UW-Madison Dairy Judging Team. We were on our way to Arethusa Farm in Connecticut.

You are no Bae, no Bae at all

Are you a bae? A “before anything else”? How cute.

To be honest I think bae is the sound a sheep makes, but that’s just my opinion!

But are you dating a farmer, dairy farmer to exact? If so, you are no bae, you are no bae at all.

Does this hurt your feelings? Get over it. It’s never changing. Because they have a different bae in their life. Yes that’s right, a different bae, probably a bit more important bae. Why? Well she needs them all day, everyday. And she relies on them on all aspects of her life. What a needy bish huh?!

I get why though. They don’t have to wait for her to call. She is always patiently waiting on them. They know exactly what she needs in her life. She’s got no silly drama. She is pretty much the perfect girl! Do you hate her already? Don’t worry, you’ll learn to love her (promise)!

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Really though…isn’t she cute?!

Was that a real surprise though? Probably not. Anyone who has ever dated a farmer knows that the girls in the barn come first and you come second, yes, even on Valentines Day. Do you blame them though?? I mean,the ladies in the barn were their first love.

But how do you know they love them?! (Insert world famous eye roll here) Well probably because it’s -30 out and they are out there with them instead of cuddling (puke) in bed with you. Or because you are on your way to a wedding but you have to stop at the barn to check on them, causing you to be late. Or because you won’t be able to go out to dinner before 7:30 pm because they have to finish taking care of their girls. Or simply because she will always come before you (unless you’re going into labor or something adult like that; and even then it’s questionable).

Now the question is, how do you overcome “the other woman” then? To make it simple, get with the program. You have to start loving her as well. So here’s a few tips on how to spend your V-Day if you can’t go out for a night on the town due to the other bae.

  1. Help with chores so you can get done earlier and you can spend the rest of your evening smooshing each other, genius, I know.
  2. Make up a pitcher of their favorite cocktail (margarita, martini, crown and coke, etc, etc.) and take it to them in the barn to start the night off with a bit of a wiggly walk.
  3. Make dinner. You can either wait for them to be done or you could do the farming version of breakfast in bed, what I like to call, food in a cooler.
  4. Don’t waste your money on flowers, chocolates, cards, etc. instead get them something he/she (farmers are men and women people) and his/her bae (cow) both could benefit from…like good grass hay, or new boots, or new bibs, or new gloves, or wash supplies, or a new set of blades…really anything you could buy at Fleet Farm or Nasco would do the trick!

Anyways, I hope you all are fortunate enough to have found a significant other that shares the same passion as you do and if not well…I hope you enjoy your Valentines Day with your farmer and all their bae’s!

Show Ring Shaped

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I unfortunately don’t have my own dairy farm, so to stay active within the dairy industry I spend most of my time on the show side of things. However, the show industry is only a small portion of dairy industry. And it’s not the side of the industry you join simply for fame and fortune. So if there is not a quick ROI or a promised blue ribbon then why are so many dairy enthusiasts active on the show side of the industry?

Well in many families it’s a tradition, maybe you joined 4-H and started it as a simple project and got hooked like the rest of us. It could also be that you get to work with your friends everyday or maybe that you were lucky enough to work with an animal who changed your life with only one show season. However, I think it’s because we like the person the show circuit turns us into. No matter how old or young you are you are always learning and developing, not only your animals but yourself.

Persistence 

Having a show animal is all about the small details, and repeating these small efforts day in and day out. It’s hard work. And if anyone doubts that, well then they’ve never had the privilege to walk on the colored shavings at the big dance. It’s waking up earlier, cleaning out stalls, getting rid of old feed they won’t eat, cleaning waterers, re-bedding, constantly growing hair, clipping routinely, finding hay they’re satisfied with, scheduled hoof trimmings; like I said all the small details! But doing all this doesn’t just teach you how to get a heifer or cow ready for the show. It teaches you time management, respect for other breeders and exhibitors and the ability to believe in yourself and your abilities. It teaches you to become open minded, to be determined and to be proud.

Patience 

Anyone who’s worked with animals before know they definitely don’t read our minds. I mean if they could, they’re doing everything in their power to try and undermine us simple humans. We treat them like princesses, it kind of reminds me of this…(que disney intro music!)

However, unlike Palo, we are doing this to more than one princess, we have a barn full! It’s like having children, taking care of their every beckon call, making sure their happy and healthy. In doing so you become extremely patient with their transformation, from frizzy haired outcasts to prim and perfect princesses. Some days are longer than others, but it teaches us that all good things come with time and a whole lot of elbow grease.

Forgiveness

When doing anything in life, things can go wrong, things can plain out fail. It may be your fault, someone else’s fault or a group effort. But you can’t let that get you down. In my experience I’ve had cattle get hurt, sick or simply don’t turn out on show day. Sure it pisses you off, like a lot, after all that effort you’ve been putting into her and she lets you down like that?! But despite the major disappointment you forgive and learn from the situation. Why did it happen? How can you change the outcome at the next show? Forgiveness is essential in any aspect of life though. With family, friends, animals; to continue your success you  simply gotta “shake it off” and keep going!

Laugh 

Now prior to this category, I have slipped up quite a bit, however laughing and loving what I do is one thing I am a pure expert at! The dairy industry is known for making life long friends. I am fortunate enough to have a group of amazing people I can call friends and 95% of them I compete with at state and national levels. When you walk through a barn at a show, whether that’s a county fair, a district or state show or even Expo, you will see people working their butts off. You will also see the same people enjoying a cold cocktail, smiling, laughing, conversing about their animals and catching up on old times. When you ask most of us what our favorite season is, 99% of the time the answer is “show season”. Showing dairy cattle teaches you to love what you do, to be immensely involved in it and to put 100% into your work.

Stay Humble

We all know there are elite herds and we all know there are beginners. But no matter what end of the spectrum you are on, winning of loosing with grace is a skill you can value in any aspect of life. Those on the winning end, people look up to you to learn from, to admire and to congratulate. Staying humble in your success says more about your character than you ever could. And those who are just beginning, remember that those who are above you were at one point a beginner too. They put in their time and work to get where they are. I think a key concept to remember at shows, or work, or even at home would be “Two things define you: your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything.”

Leadership

Most of us started showing when we were just in little briches. I can still remember who I looked up to when I was at my county fair, who I started to learn from when I went to district shows, who I first tied with at Expo (and pretty much stalked their every step). As we grow in this industry we are reminded that we always have eyes on us, many of which are young and prying. We learn to be the leaders that we admired growing up, and I think that is something to aspire to. If I could help juniors as much as I was helped through my junior career I’d feel accomplished with my involvement in the Holstein industry. Being a leader is more than helping others get their purple ribbon, it’s about helping others aspire to be the best version of themselves they can be.

So although we all really appreciate being pulled first or selling an animal for high profit, what I think has all of us coming back show season after show season is all the non tangible gifts the show industry gives us.

Joining the Conversation

Well, many of you may be wondering why I started this now. Just because I started taking this social media class?

Well, actually no.

I’ve been openly advocating for the dairy industry for years now just never on paper, errr blog post, for you to keep records of. I first started when I became the Wisconsin Holstein Association Princess in 2012. I ran because I mean, who wouldn’t want a big sparkly crown?! Noo, I’m kidding (partially)! I really did because of the number of prior princesses who had great success within the dairy industry after their term. In fact my big sister in my sorority, Association of Women in Agriculture (AWA), was the one to pass down her crown to me! She now works at Bader & Rutter and promotes animal health, still regularly advocating for the dairy industry! So as you can see it’s a pretty great program to be involved with if you want to speak to the community about the importance of the dairy industry.

Much of what I did was travel to schools talking to kindergarten – 4th graders. In these classroom visits we would talk about everything from how to milk a cow, how calves are born, to how milk is “made from blood”. That usually always got their attention! It was in the classroom that I decided I needed to help educate others about the dairy industry when a 3rd grade boy stated that milk was made by men. He could not believe that a cow produced milk, nor that milk made cheese or butter or ice cream. And not only that but he wouldn’t believe it either. 3rd grade! I was speechless.

However, not all of what I did as princess was that shocking. I also worked with juniors within the association, encouraging them to try new activities, to grow their experience within the association and to make life long friends. I also pushed calves, wiped butts and other casual princess duties. 557676_10151218704999056_1808645766_n LauraFinley cleaning up After my year as princess was over the advocate in me came out while on campus. I started a professional twitter where I tweeted experiences to my followers, I joined clubs, I helped spread the udderly (get it?!) good word in my classrooms and often ended striking up a conversation at our Thursday night bar about why I’m wearing cowboy boots (they’re fabulous!) which leads to cows, cows and more cows. I am proud to say that I know I was not the only one on campus doing that at the time either. I lived with two great girls who also participated in these activities and we lived in a house with 25 other girls with a similar passion. We were really trying to make a difference. But it wasn’t until one night at the Steenbok Library that I myself stood up for agriculture in a very “Laura like” fashion. Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.12.49 PM I wrote a small note to a boy who sat across from me that had some shirt about PETA being sexy. Well growing up in the industry we all know that even saying PETA is like spitting out poison.  I also lived with a father who had a pretty classy sticker on the back of his truck that said “PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals” among many others to that extent. To say the least I had to look twice due to my visual displeasure the first time. My note may have been a wee bit spirited – claiming that there are plenty of sexy farmers, don’t worry I got your back boys – but overall giving him information about real Wisconsin dairy farms. I also shared it on Facebook because I mean, if it’s not on Facebook did you even do it?! To sum up my note in less than two pages…

  • The dairy industry contributes $26.5 billion to our states economy
  • The average cow generates $20,000 a year in economic activity
  • It’s a family affair, 98% of farms are family farms
  • Farmers treat their cows like family, they are what’s putting food on the table and clothes on their back
  • Then I went into my weekend…
    •  Helped my roommate with chores all weekend so her family could go to the YFA conference which is their only vacation within the year
    • The usual chores on a dairy farm; milking, feedings, bedding, calves, etc.
    • Helped a cow give birth to a healthy heifer at 3:00 am – pointing out this was the time most college kids were  leaving the bar
    • What I go to school for (Life Sciences Communication (formerly known as Ag Journalism) and Dairy Science)
    • Encouraged him to visit a dairy farm
    • Provided him with numerous sources he could look into about agricultural practices, one being Dairy Carrie’s “Sometimes we are Mean to our cows” blog post http://dairycarrie.com/2013/12/09/cowabuse/

Now I hope you can see that I’m not just doing this for a grade but rather because it is something that I am very passionate about. It’s also something I’ve been striving to do for years now and maybe this class was just the gateway for me to start communicating to a much larger audience! So now I invite you, all my internet friends, to join this conversation. When you meet someone who hasn’t experienced an agricultural rich life, share a piece of yours with them!

Proud “Wife” of the Dairy Industry

And before we start jumping to conclusions, I am NOT married. Like not even close, not even a little. Because if I was, this would be me… d24ad97354782606ed25b6fce57ca800 But after my LSC 432, Social Media Marketing class at UW-Madison I realized the best advocators act like a stereotypical wife or mother. Demanding, goal seeking, resilient, overwhelming, and usually successful in getting what they want.

So, like I said I started taking a class on social media and apart of my grade (if you all share this I’ll get an A, except you mom, that’s embarrassing) is making a blog. So here it is, crown and cows! Can you guess why I named it so?! Well come to the barn on a Friday night and you would know. Anyways, as most of us proud Ag kids know, our industry gets a lot of bashing and I for one am sick of it. To help the movement I am going to be blogging, truthful, to the point blogs about my own personal experience within the dairy industry. I myself, don’t have my own dairy farm, so why in the hell am I so passionate about it? Well, it’s a long story, but long story short, it runs in my blood.

I’ve been in the barn, show ring or at a sale since I was born. My grandfather made sure I had a small herd of high type registered Holsteins by the time I was old enough to show in little briches at our County Fair. I remember every morning after swimming lessons he would pick me up and we would go to the farm and I would walk my calf up and down the barn alley until he was satisfied with my showmanship skills, which usually took at least an hour. As a kid it seemed silly, I mean all I needed to do was put on my red cowboy boots, my white pants and prance my calf (Princess was her name) around the show ring, get my rope halter and $2 bill and hit the fairway for a corn dog and a ride or two.

photo I don’t know if I’m upset because of the criticism I’m sure Al is giving me back there or because of the awesome outfit my mom made me wear. But it got better with time…

photoSo much happier!

However, now I am so unbelievably thankful for this constant routine. It taught me hard work, patience and made me fall in love with the Holstein cow. So now, 19 years later I still walk my heifers for at least an hour a day (weather permitting), make sure they are clean and comfortable with enough water and hay to satisfy their tummies. With that information hopefully you can get a glimpse of why us Ag kids get a bit defensive when the industry we love gets a attacked by false ideas.

IMG_3574I mean, doesn’t Bubbles look happy here?!

So to get back to my wife/mother situation. How many times a day does your wife or mother remind you to do something; clean your room, pay the bills, pick up groceries, do your homework, etc. And if you don’t do it, she reminds you again, correct? Do you think those tasks get done the second time? My guess is yes, and if not we all know she will tell you again, and probably with more of a dangerous glare in her eye. Now how does this relate to my blog and my cause? Well I think if I advocate for the dairy industry and resiliently support what I believe in I can help change the attitude of those who don’t believe in agricultural practices. Taking on the stereotypical mother/wife persona by reminding you of what is true and what actually happens on a dairy farm, reminding you of the character it builds, reminding you of the opportunities it opens and reminding you to join the AGvocate movement (warning: some blogs may be a bit more sassy than others, I’ve been told I’m quite opinionated).

Hope you enjoy and share your thoughts as well!