Everyone knows that the best way to win a trip to Europe is by judging cows. OK, not everyone. But, that is how three Goodhue County 4-H'ers won a two-week trip to Ireland and Scotland.
Madelyn Wehe, Owen Scheffler and Jay Dicke have been around cattle the majority of their lives. Scheffler and Dicke grew up on dairy farms while Wehe has leased cattle for almost a decade.
Their knowledge of cattle, paired with Scheffler's parents’ history of being award-winning cattle judges, led them to form a high school cattle judging team.
In competitions, teams are presented with classes of cows and heifers. They have to then rank them from best to worst. In the high school league, the teams have to give three reasons for their order.
To get ready for the State Fair, the Goodhue County team practiced every Tuesday starting in June. Each week, the team saw a new group of cattle, either from their farms or the farms of others. Once in a while, the team’s coaches threw in a group that had been judged a few weeks to make the trio rank them in the same order.
Scheffler said the practices were "kind of different from most dairy judging teams. Most dairy judging teams do a silent practice … and then they’ll maybe talk it over at the end.” This team, however, talked throughout the process.
In 2018, the Goodhue County team took first place at the Minnesota State Fair. About a month later, the national 4-H dairy judging competition began.
“So you’ll be going against Maryland, Florida, California, just all these different teams,” Dicke said.
At the national competition, the Goodhue County team lost first place by one point. But the top three teams were able go on the European trip.
The students spent two weeks of July in Ireland, Scotland and England, touring farms, judging animals and sightseeing.
“The thing about those farmers over there is they’re very, very proud of what they do,” Shelper said. The students speculated that had there not been a large group on the tour and if their daily agendas were not full, the farmers would have kept them on the farm all day to talk about it.
While there are some similarities between the cows in Ireland and Scotland and those in the U.S., the differences are most memorable.
“I think the main difference is the feeding,” Scheffler said.
Dicke agreed, saying “their grass is better quality over there, it has more nutrients … that’s the thing. If they didn’t have good grass, they wouldn’t have cows that produce milk.”
In the U.S., many cows are fed grass along with alfalfa, beans, corn, oats and other grains. This results in more production. According to Scheffler, above-average cows there produce about 20,000 pounds of milk in their lifetime. In the U.S., that number is 30,000 or more.
About a month after returning from Europe, the team was at the State Fair for the 2019 cattle judging contest.