Aug. 9 2019 11:00 AM

As we gear up for fall judging competitions, let’s remember that the lessons learned reach far beyond a score.

The forthcoming crisp fall air will also welcome in the continuation of the tanbark trail and the beginning of dairy judging contests. The end of summer acts as a sort of silence right before judging revs up the dairy community.

Although I concluded my judging contest career in 2018, ten years of experience has taught me that I have been so blessed to have had the coaches, mentors, and friends that have helped mold my capabilities. We know that dairy judging teaches public speaking, decision-making, critical thinking, and more, but here are a few other items I’ve learned along the way:

  • You can have a great day. Anyone that has ever judged can remember a special day when they were just on it. That day, you could really see the cows and where they best fit for placings. Your reasons glided off of your tongue as if you could do it in your sleep.
  • You’ll also have bad days. These can really get to you. Sometimes you don’t know what to do with the stylish, but smaller heifer in the class, and get it wrong. Sometimes you miss the big picture of a cow because she has such an awesome udder that you forget to look at her legs. Haven’t we all done that?
  • Be proud of your teammates and yourself no matter the day. This might be the one that took me the longest to learn. Jealousy is natural, right? I’ll use an example here. I personally competed in four collegiate level contests last year. At one of those, I was fortunate to win high individual. The other three times, I had three different teammates that came out on top. Instead of letting jealousy eat me alive, like I might have done in the past, I chose to recognize their hard work and skills.

At the end of every day, and especially on judging days, I advise you to thank your supporters. This may include your family, friends, coaches, teammates, and so forth. Newsflash: They always want you to be the best version of yourself. Notice how I did not say that they want you to always be the best. There is a difference.

Additionally, take some time to reflect on the day. What did you see well? What’d you see less well? That’s where growth begins. No matter what kind of day we have had, we should know that each one of them is acceptable as long as we know how hard we worked. We can take these lessons and put them into action whether or not we judge shows down the road or help coach future contestants that contain that same passion.

Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas grew up in Pittsboro, N.C., showing and raising dairy heifers. Thomas attends Virginia Tech, majoring in dairy science with minors in agricultural economics, communication, and Spanish. On campus, she’s involved with Dairy Club, Sigma Alpha, and has been a member of the Virginia Tech dairy judging team. Thomas is the current National Junior Holstein Advisory Committee Chairperson and is the 2019 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial intern.

Join us on Monday, August 12 for our next webinar

Lindsay Ferlito, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, will present “Monitoring and improving cow comfort in freestalls and tie stalls” on Monday, August 12, at noon (Central time).

Cow comfort has a huge impact on a dairy’s bottom line. Monitoring lameness and injuries helps producers identify management and facility factors that influence cow comfort, allowing them to make the right changes and see improvements.

Register at