Earlier this morning, 4-H members from around the country walked onto the colored shavings at World Dairy Expo to compete in the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest. While they are the first to experience the new tradition of the competition being held on Sunday of Expo week instead of Monday, they now share the experience of the contest with 99 years of 4-H dairy enthusiasts before them.
The competition, which was first held in 1919, is celebrating its 100th event this year. World War II caused the contest to be put off in 1941, 1943, 1944, and 1945, and COVID-19 had the same effect in 2020. Last year, 16 teams travelled to Madison for the return of the contest from its pandemic hiatus.
At the very first event, just six teams participated, and Minnesota took home the title. However, the value of the competition developing at the National Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa, was quickly realized by dairy youth educators around the country, as participation jumped to 15 teams in 1920. By the time the event was last held at Waterloo in 1966, the contest had hosted more than 30 teams for over a decade straight.
The North American Dairy Show in Columbus, Ohio, was selected as the next location of the prestigious competition, and it remained there for a decade before moving to its current home at World Dairy Expo in 1977. The largest contests have included 38 teams; that happened in 1978, 1987, and 1994.
Forty-one states have sent a team to the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest over the years, and 20 different states have earned a team national title. Maryland holds the record for most team wins with 31. Wisconsin follows with 14 top finishes, including 10 since the year 2000 and each of the last four.
In its current form, 4-H contestants judge one heifer class and one cow class in each of the Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, and Jersey breeds. Since 2019, contestants have submitted their final placings on ringside iPads equipped to scan their individual participant numbers instead of submitting paper placing cards. After a lunch break, the members prepare and present five sets of oral reasons to the official judges.
Regardless of who claims the top spots at the end of today’s competition, the participating youth will walk away with skills that past contestants say remain useful for a lifetime. These go beyond the talents in cattle evaluation to include improved decision-making abilities, public speaking skills, and confidence. For that, participants past and present must thank many dedicated coaches, practice farms, parents, and volunteers for investing in this type of learning experience!
If you want to follow along with the results of tonight’s awards banquet for the 4-H, post-secondary, and intercollegiate dairy judging contests, tune into the Hoard’s Dairyman Facebook page beginning around 6:30 p.m. Central time. We will find out who earns the honor of being winners in the 100th anniversary of this remarkable 4-H competition.
Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019 and is now an associate editor. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.