Jackson County 4-H Judging Team ready for national contest
By Heather Thorstensen
Only one team per state can compete Nov. 18 in the National 4-H Livestock Judging Contest. This year, Minnesota will be represented by a Jackson County team.
They are Laura Schulz, 19; Zach Post, 16; Kate Rentschler, 17; and her sister Breanne Rentschler, 15. Team alternates are Jake Ihnen, 15, and Evan Koep, 16. All hail from Lakefield, except Schulz, who is from Alpha, and Ihnen, a resident of Round Lake. They will compete during the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
Andrea Ruesch is Jackson County’s 4-H program coordinator and the team’s self-described no.1 fan. She calls the national contest the premier 4-H livestock judging event.
"Once you judge at Louisville, you can’t go back," she said.
The Jackson County team earned their spot there by taking first place in the Minnesota State Fair’s Senior 4-H General Livestock Judging Contest. They finished with a strong 91-point lead over the second place finishers. All four team members placed as top ten individuals, with Schulz and Post taking first and second place, respectively.
In the national contest, they will judge and place four classes of beef, three classes of swine, three classes of sheep and one class of breeding meat goats. Each class will have four animals. At least one breeding class will have performance data and a scenario included. The specifics about classes won’t be revealed until the eve of the competition.
They will have 12 minutes to place all classes except the four classes that require oral reasons, which the team can evaluate for 15 minutes. Then, they will answer questions from officials and give oral reasons. Members will work independently to compete for both team and individual scores. Their top three scores will be used as the team score. They will have to wait until the next morning’s award ceremony to learn the competition’s results.
Breanne said last week she was feeling a mixture of emotions about the upcoming competition.
"I’m kind of nervous, you always want to do your best there, but I’m really excited and looking forward to it at the same time," she said.
The team has had a rigorous practice schedule, meeting at 6:30 a.m. twice a week in the summer. Now they meet twice a week in the evening to practice plus on some weekends, and have competed recently at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Neb., and the Premier Stockman judging event in Frankfurt, Ind.
"Once in a while it can be frustrating but it’s always fun, it’s always worth it, I think," said Zach of their practice routine.
Even though the team’s heading to Kentucky Nov. 13, their preparation isn’t over yet.
"They’ve got some opportunities to evaluate and judge livestock all the way to Louisville," Ruesch said. "They’ll be stopping at some farms and universities."
Team members and their families raised money for the trip by serving up meals at local events. They also received sponsorships from former livestock judging team member, Curt Chergosky, and the Minnesota State Pork Chop open, a Jackson County golf event.
They will be accompanied in Louisville by their volunteer coaches, Jim Nesseth and Sheldon Johnson, in addition to Ruesch and their families. Nesseth said the team will be up against stiff competition at nationals because some will be all-star teams of older, top individuals from their state. This is a busy time of the year for Nesseth, a crop consultant, but he and other volunteers continue to support the team.
"These kids are worth it," he said.
Their trip to the national contest will continue a 4-H tradition in Jackson County. Ruesch said the county represented Minnesota there just two years ago and that Jackson teams have a long history with the competition. Many team members’ parents competed in livestock judging with the county, and both their coaches and other volunteers were on state championship livestock judging teams in the past.
"The teams go back generations," Ruesch said.