It is a unique occurrence for one family to boast several judges of the caliber required to place cattle on the grand stage of World Dairy Expo. Even more rare would be for them to judge in the same year on the colored shavings. But in 2022, that took place for brothers Keith and Phillip Topp of Ohio, when Keith judged the Jersey show and Phillip placed the Guernseys. Their brother, Eric, is also an accomplished dairy cattle judge, so this is not the first time two of them were at the center of the ring in the same year.

The brothers grew up in Botkins, Ohio, with their parents, Don and Mary Lou. While on their farm, Topp-View Holsteins, Keith and Phillip worked closely with Eric and their mother after their father passed away to build their herd of registered Holsteins.

Today, Keith and his wife, Kendra, and their children, Keaton and Kinley, operate On-Topp Genetics, a small, elite herd of four dairy breeds and a few heifers they board. Keith also works at the 320-cow dairy where they house some of their cows. Phillip and his wife, Carrie, along with their children, Aubree, Aiden, and Alaina, own a farm 1 mile from his mother’s farm, where they milk 30 cows consisting of all breeds and raise their young stock. He also houses some of Keith’s cows.

Inspired by mentors

Like many young people, both Keith and Phillip began their judging careers in FFA, where they won numerous contests. Those wins sparked their interest in judging, and their passion grew from there.

When thinking about who influenced his judging career, Keith recalled, “After I graduated high school, I started fitting for Wayne Sliker, Delbert Yoder, and Jeff Stookey, all great cow men who taught me a lot. I started judging some county and state fairs, and after I did my first county fair, I was so excited and just liked to see great cattle and meet people.”

For Phillip, the credit for his interest in judging really goes to his family. “I looked up to my older brothers and also my mother. They have all been very influential in keeping me in the industry. I enjoyed and learned from my brothers as I watched them judge shows.”

After both Keith and Phillip judged some local shows and state fairs, another fellow Ohio dairyman, Chris Lahmers, gave both the chance to judge on a bigger level. “Chris asked me to be his associate for the International Jersey Show in 2015 and things really started to take off from there,” Phillip stated.

To date, Phillip has served as the official judge for the 2019 International Ayrshire Show, the 2021 International Brown Swiss Show, and the 2022 International Guernsey Show. This year, he will be judging the International Red and White Show.

Along with these shows on the colored shavings, Phillip has judged the National Jersey Jug as well as the Milking Shorthorn and Guernsey shows in Louisville, Ky., several state fairs, the National Brown Swiss Show in Mexico, the National Brown Swiss Show in Peru, the Wisconsin Championship Holstein Show, and the Brown Swiss and Ayrshire shows at the Midwest Dairy Showcase in Wisconsin. While Phillip says he enjoys all the shows he judges, he says any show that he judges during World Dairy Expo is always a highlight. He also enjoyed the Jersey Jug and the Wisconsin Championship Show.

Keith also credits Lahmers and Paul Trapp with giving him his first chance on the big stage, where he served as their associate judge at World Dairy Expo. He has since officiated five breed shows at Expo. He has also judged many other notable shows including the All American Jersey Show, the National Jersey Jug, the Western National Holstein Show, the Midwest National Spring Show, and the Midwest Fall National Show.

The Expo experience

When asked specifically about judging at World Dairy Expo and being on the colored shavings at the same time, both Topp brothers consider it an amazing honor.

“I’ve been in the center of the ring multiple times at World Dairy Expo and it is pretty special when you get out there in the morning and they play the national anthem, then all the people watch when you name your champion. It’s very emotional for me,” said Keith. “I’m very proud of Phillip and what he has accomplished, and while it was neat to be out there at the same time, for me, it was so cool to stand in front of the backdrop and get our picture taken with our mom, Mary Lou.”

Phillip added, “For me, it’s such an honor to get voted in by my fellow exhibitors. I really enjoy being out there with an associate you can share thoughts and ideas with. Since Keith and I were judging at the same time, I really didn’t get a chance to watch that much, but at the end of the day, I was so happy that our mom got to see both of us out there.”

Giving back

Both Keith and Phillip appreciate the opportunities that judging has offered them and are thankful to those who have helped them throughout their judging journeys.

“Along with others already mentioned, I would like to thank Dean Dohle, Ryan Krohlow, Clark Morgan, and Grant Cope as they were my associates at World Dairy Expo and I really enjoyed working with them,” Keith noted. “As I look to the future, I’m looking forward to doing more shows, seeing more outstanding cattle, and working with great people.”

Phillip concluded, “When I was younger, I never thought I’d judge at World Dairy Expo, and it’s an honor to have been chosen by my peers numerous times. I’m very thankful to my wife and my family for always supporting me and handling chores while I’m gone. To me, it’s about giving back as well, and I’m looking forward to getting more younger breeders and youth involved in the industry in any way possible.”