May 7 2012 09:03 AM

The National FFA Contest encompasses dairy management into their judging contest.

FFA membersMany of us began dairy judging in 4-H programs. The younger members started by just filling out cards with their placing for each class of four animals. As members and their skill sets advanced, oral reasons to defend their placings became part of each contest.

In my youth, the FFA contests followed this pattern, several classes for placings, a few sets of oral reasons, and a pedigree class. Two decades later, the state FFA contest in my home state still operates in the same manner.

However, the national FFA dairy judging contest is appropriately titled "Dairy Cattle Management and Evaluation Career Development Event." Class placings are only 40 percent and reasons are 20 percent. A written exam on dairy topics and interpreting DHI records is worth another 20 percent. The team's score is calculated from all four team members, not just the highest three.

The remainder of the points is a team activity. In this FFA contest, high school students are given a staged dairy farm scenario to identify problems. The students then deliver an oral summary of their suggestions to the judges who act as the producer. (A concept similar to Dairy Challenge for college dairy students where they evaluate an actual farm and offer suggestions for improvement).

Hoard's Dairyman is one of the sources for the event reference material. The judging material (available in our bookstore) as well as the youth quizzes are sources of material to help FFA members prepare for the contest.

As state FFA contests are held and students prepare for the right to compete and represent their state at the next level, they will be developing more skills than just "picking the pretty ones." They will be adding skills such as public speaking, identifying problems and offering solutions, and team-building.

Good luck to the FFA contestants as they prepare for the national contest in Indianapolis, Ind., in late October.