FFA Dairy Judging Practice

Saturday morning the Pleasant Ridge FFA dairy judging team visited the farm for a practice before their first competition. Aaron, one of our milkers, is on the team. He and our other milker, Tyler, selected four classes of cows and calves for the team to judge.

FFA stands for Future Farmers of America. The organization teaches high school students about agriculture through judging and showing competitions. Of the kids who visited our farm, some had a livestock background, but many did not, and I don’t think any had a dairy background.  In high school David was very involved in FFA, and his coach Mr. Silvers is still leading the program at PR. 

I don’t know the specific rules of dairy judging, but I’ll share what I do know. At the competition, the students will look at some number of classes that each include four animals of similar age. Each animal is marked 1, 2, 3, or 4 for identification purposes. They judge and place these animals based on their body structure. For some of the classes at the competition, the students will have to give reasons explaining their placements.  Mr. Silvers has been teaching them about good and bad qualities to look for, mostly using slides.  Seeing real animals before competition is where we fit in. 

For practice, we started with a class of calves just under a year old. The team had several minutes to inspect the calves before placing them.  After they were finished, Mr. Silvers “talked” the class presenting his placing and reasons. It was interesting that the calf he placed last is the one we expect to make the best cow, but we have the advantage of knowing her genetics and that she was the youngest in the class (and also the smallest). He explained to the kids that judging calves can be difficult and that often a young class will place very differently after the animals have matured.  For those interested, a Trigger calf was first, and a Planet calf was fourth.

The students stepping back to take a different look at the class at their coach’s suggestion.

The second class was breeding age heifers 1 to 2 years old. In this class, three were sired by Sholten and displayed similar qualities making it a pretty difficult class. The process was basically the same as the first class. Mr. Silvers suggested that the students look from 20′ in addition to 5′ because different things might stand out.  The only non-Sholten, an Aftershock, took second. She was the oldest in the class and isn’t bred yet despite several attempts, but she does look good. The first place Sholten heifer was confirmed bred to Boliver last month.

The third class was 3-year-old cows. This class was easiest to place from the view shown below. If you’d like to give it a try, place the class in the comments section.  Do keep in mind this was only a couple of hours after milking.  First place was sired by Pippen and is one of the best looking fresh heifers we’ve had.  The fourth cow cracked David’s ribs while he was breeding her and didn’t stick. She’s destined for a trailer ride when her production drops.

The third class: three year old cows. If you’d like to try, place the class in the comments.

The fourth and final class was aged cows. For this class, Mr. Silvers asked the kids to place them and take good notes. He didn’t talk the class so he could have the kids give their reasons in class on Monday. We had a little excitement when one of the aged cows decided to try to jump the gate. She got hung up, but we got her over and she seems perfectly fine. The top rail of the gate didn’t fare as well.

The boys threw in a little bit of a curve ball for this class: a very nice 3-quartered cow. She probably would have been #2 in the class otherwise, but with one dry quarter, she automatically falls to fourth. This cow milks better than many four-quartered cows, but that doesn’t matter in livestock competitions.  Some of the students noticed, and others learned a valuable lesson. 

We really enjoyed having the students visit the farm.  We were able to answer some general dairy questions, and they got to see real milk cows before their first competition.  Placing classes isn’t an approach we often take to evaluating our animals, and it was actually really interesting to see how they stacked up.  Looking at their eartag numbers on paper, I would have placed the classes very differently than I did looking at the animals isolated side-by-side. 

Thanks to the team for coming out, and good luck at the district competition!

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