I mentioned to my mom the other day that my one-year-old daughter is starting to have opinions on things like what she wants to eat and what she wants to wear. My mom responded that the apple did not fall far from the tree. I immediately teased back, saying that there was nothing wrong with being decisive! My mom told me to start praying now that I will be able to handle an independent spirit when she is in her teen years.
I blame my strong opinions on dairy judging.
That statement may be more broad than fair, but there is certainly a correlation. As a pre-teen, I learned how to assess a class of cows, make decisions, and independently defend those decisions in front of seasoned experts. Wow. That sounds pretty impressive when I type it out. What seemed like a chore then I now know has become a foundational key to my success.
Making a decision in a limited amount of time is tough. It is an even more difficult task to then confidently explain why you made that decision in a clear, concise, and persuasive monologue. Dairy judging taught me how to do this in every environment you could imagine.
Our team would practice and prepare in barns, restaurants, van rides, hotel hallways, and more. We had to learn to focus and prepare no matter the noise, weather, distractions, or interruptions. In public settings, we would receive many strange looks as we practiced reciting our reasons aloud, alone, pacing in a circle. The settings could be frustrating as they were never ideal. In hindsight, it was the best possible learning method.
We had what some may refer to as a ‘power pose’: arms behind your back, standing tall with your chest up, shoulders back, and looking your audience in the eye. I would smile, as I always do, as I started my reasons with “I placed this class of…”
I still remember that one time a judge from Oklahoma State gave me a perfect score of 50 on oral reasons at the NAILE dairy judging contest in Louisville. I do not even recall if I placed that class correctly. I just remember that I made a choice, defended my opinion, and an expert acknowledged my observations and assertions. He may not have agreed with me before I stood there, but by the end, I was able to show him my perspective. I had learned to communicate my opinions with enough justification to persuade another person.
So, yes, if you want to call decisive confidence ‘opinionated,’ then I proudly hold dairy judging largely responsible. Thank you, reasons. But, more importantly, I am thankful to those coaches and judges that taught and believed in me. I have the privilege of writing this now because of them.
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."