LOUISVILLE — Although livestock events come to mind in the Cornhusker state, Nebraska also has hundreds of youth participating in dairy-related youth activities throughout the state. Four young people earned their way to the Southern National 4-H Dairy Judging Contest recently at the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) Competition.

It was the first year for a Nebraska 4-H Dairy Judging Team to compete at NAILE. The contest was challenging with some 4-H teams represented by freshmen in college. The Nebraska kids first competed on their county’s teams in the State contest held during the Nebraska State Fair to secure their spot on the four-member Nebraska team. The team included Chase Racicky of Mason City, Natalie Wegner of Wolbach, Hannah Holtmeier of Plymouth and Sheridan Chaney of Elwood.

Since the August 25th state fair competition, kids worked with their state coaches, Becky and Lee Chaney of Elwood. “The kids would judge classes online and email or text Lee and I their written reasons,” Mrs. Chaney explained. “Then Lee and I would go through each set of reasons, write down suggestions and then rewrite the reasons in the proper format. This helped the kids improve tremendously.”

An all-day practice was held in Miller at the Wood River Dairy managed by Rayme and Kristen Mackinson. “This was a great workout, allowing kids to view cattle, develop their terminology and really hone their reasons,” Mr. Chaney pointed out. “Greg Racicky, Becky and I listened to two sets of oral reasons and I’m always impressed with how the kids have improved.”

Although Nebraska is known as the “beef state,” it has a rich history in the dairy industry with hopes of the state’s dairy business expanding with a mission to support and grow a viable dairy industry in Nebraska. “It is encouraging to see young people capitalize on opportunities presented to them,” Mr. Chaney added. “And to have them honor those opportunities by improving their skills through persistant practice and hard work is really wonderful to see.”

There were 22 teams in the contest. The youth donned business professional attire and were divided into different groups. Following a few last words of encouragement, some judging tips, and a silent prayer, they walked off to the show arena to await the first class to judge as their group number was called. It was a challenging day with ten classes to evaluate, five cow classes and five heifer classes, followed by four sets of memorized oral reasons.

But at the end of the day, their hard work had paid off. Nebraska placed 6th in the Guernsey breed and 11th in the Ayrshire breed, the best a Nebraska team has done at a National Contest in four years. Sheridan was 6th in Guernsey, 15th in oral reasons and 27th overall. Hannah was 32nd in Guernsey and 47th in Brown Swiss and Chase was 40th in Ayrshire.

“I practiced a lot and it paid off,” Sheridan said. “I’ve been livestock judging for eight years and dairy judging for five years. My parents did judging and now they coach me.”

The 15-year-old said she believes she learned a lot more about the dairy industry the past few months. “Dairy judging also taught me more about communication, decision making, and evaluation skills,” the sophomore explained. “Doing so well at NAILE makes me feel like our hard work accomplished something big.”

Chase has been judging for eight years and his family milks 200 Holsteins near Mason City. Making lifelong friends and improving and learning terminology from hearing others give reasons is what he gained most being on the state dairy judging team, according to the 15-year-old sophomore.

“Judging taught me confidence in making decisions, speaking without being nervous and recognizing quality of animals.” Chase pointed out. “Determination and hard work pays off. Judging will help me with other livestock judging events.”

Hannah hails from a beef background like Sheridan and said she enjoyed learning about the dairy industry. “I have gained many new connections and friends from NAILE,” the 16-year-old junior said. “I have also learned many public speaking skills from doing reasons.”

The Tri-Central High School student has only been judging for three years but said she feels her team’s hard work since state fair paid off. “All the reasons and practice classes online helped me and I feel happy that I saw improvement in not only my judging skills, but giving reasons,” she added. “I think dairy judging teaches me how to have an open mind about my opinions because I don’t come from a dairy background so I know I’m not always going to be right so I have learned to keep an open mind.”

Hannah hopes to have a career in the animal science industry and said dairy judging has definitely opened her eyes to a new part the agricultural community. “I loved the experience and thought it was a good way for me to meet new people and grow as a person,” she added.

Natalie has a beef and dairy background and like Chase and Sheridan, she was following in her sibling’s footsteps, being on the state 4-H dairy judging team and knew she had big shoes to fill. “I’ve been dairy judging for three years now,” the 16-year-old sophomore explained. “I really liked seeing the diversity in opinions of judges. On this journey I gained the ability to write and perform better oral reasons. This team has put in a lot of effort and I truly think hard work pays off. Our success has made me feel a sense of accomplishment with this team.”

Natalie said learning the correct format for giving oral reasons and increasing her confidence was what she will most take away from the experience. “I believe judging on this level prepares me for life ahead,” she explained. “This team has helped me learn how to be more confident giving reasons. My team was very courteous and respectful to everyone and we got to know some great people.”

One great person the kids got to meet was the superintendent of officials for the national judging contest, James Umphrey of Florida. Mr. Umphrey has been in his volunteer role at NAILE for 23 years. “I grew up on farm in Alabama on a beef and hog and row crop farm,” he said. “My dad worked the farm fulltime, was a school teacher and drove the school bus. I guess that’s where I get my work ethic from today.”

James used to work in extension but today he is the Eastern States Milk Quality Specialist for ABS Global. “A lot of kids go to NAILE and it’s considered the preliminary contest preparing youth for the National 4-H Dairy Judging contest in Madison, Wis.,” Mr. Umphrey explained. “Some teams might even judge at NAILE one year, at the All-American Youth Dairy Judging Contest in Harrisburg, Penn., the next year and then that team will culminate with its final judging contest at Madison, during World Dairy Expo.”

Umphrey believes that the judging program sets youth a part from other kids and gives them a real advantage in their future careers and in advancing in the workplace. “When I interview kids face-to-face for a job, I guarantee you I know within five minutes if that kid ever had any quality judging experience,” Mr. Umphrey explained. “The biggest thing they possess is the ability to evaluate a situation and defend that situation quickly.”

Bottom line, according to the longtime judging volunteer, is that youth participating in dairy judging or livestock is a real plus and it will have a profound affect on helping youth be successful in their future careers no matter what path or direction they may take.

The contest coordinator for 30-plus years, George Heersche, said kids don’t even have to be involved in livestock or dairy to benefit from the judging program. “Dairy judging is just the carrot,” he said. “What we are improving is skills, teaching life skills — skills of observation, simultaneously evaluating multiple inputs, logical thinking, and oral communication, — young people can use these life skills in whatever career they end up in.”

He said there are lots of non-farm youth judging. “For the past seven years the Kentucky FFA has won the National FFA Dairy Evaluation Career Development event with mostly non-dairy and non-farm kids,” he pointed out. “It can be done with hard work.”

Mr. Heersche said Nebraska, Maine and New Mexico were all judging for the first time at NAILE. “This shows growth in our contest,” the judging coordinator added. “Nebraska did extremely well in the Guernsey breed and placed 6th. That’s an indicator that they know what they are doing.”

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