On my second day of my sophomore spring semester, I walked into Animal Science 335 with my head held a little too high. I was excited to be a part of the dairy cattle judging class as I knew it was a prerequisite for the Iowa State Dairy Judging Team. However, I figured with my background in 4-H and FFA, I would breeze through this class, always having the right placings and the best reasons.
After that initial class, I walked out with my tail between my legs. As a group, we reviewed a picture class which consisted of four professional photographs of cattle and had to place them. From there, the class instructor and dairy judging coach, Christen Burgett, arranged us in groups to come up with a final placing as a team. In the end, I found out that I placed the class completely wrong. I was in shock and disappointed with myself.
Since that first day of class, I have grown so much. Through finishing out that semester and starting weekly practices with the team, I have become more accurate in my placings and persuasive with my oral reasons. The highlight of my team’s judging experience was at World Dairy Expo where my team placed third overall. Three of us were named with All-American honors, and I was the high individual in the Holstein breed.
Even though my team has experienced success, I cannot say it came naturally and without failure. Overall, I learned three key things during my college judging career:
- Time and practice drive results. In 4-H, my teammates and I would practice a couple of times before competing at the state competition. This never seemed to be a problem because my team placed first and I was the high individual in 2018.
On the college team, we practiced every Saturday and ventured to dairy farms hours away. Come that Monday, we would have to give three or four sets of reasons. This meant I never got to go to a college football game my senior year. I learned that if I wanted the results, I had to put in the effort.
- Every point counts. Whether it’s getting beat by Virginia Tech by a single point at World Dairy Expo or to a teammate to earn top five breed honors at the Vernon County Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest, one point can make a difference. A point can be the deciding factor between hearing your name called or not.
This places more emphasis on seeing the class correctly and presenting the best set of reasons possible. I had to learn to make the most out of my 15 minutes to observe the cattle and write detailed notes.
- No one understands like your teammates. So many inside jokes and tears of laughter came out of my time with my coach and three teammates. Every rush of emotion I felt, from happiness to disappointment, was also experienced with my teammates. I had no clue that I would create such strong bonds with these women, from debating placings to hugging over a successful awards banquet.
Jessica Schmitt grew up working on her family’s dairy farm near Fort Atkinson, Iowa. She recently completed her junior year at Iowa State University where she is triple majoring in dairy science, international agriculture, and agricultural and life sciences education with a communications option. Schmitt served as the 2021 Hoard’s Dairyman editorial intern this summer.