What qualities make top milk-producing dairy cattle?
Answering that question is not as simple as weighing them on a scale, said Erik J. Shelmidine, whose 2-year-old Holstein cow, Tilly, captured fourth place in the 4-H competition for youth at the New York State Fair in Syracuse last week.
The senior from Belleville Henderson Central School was one of seven club members who sported their knowledge in the 4-H cattle judging competition. In its best showing yet, the team took second place among about 30 counties. Each team member is asked to rank groups of four cows for the competition, from first to last. Its an exercise that Mr. Shelmidine, who has been in the 4-H group since he was 9, said hes improved on every year.
His cow, which claimed first prize in the youth competition at the Jefferson County Fair earlier in the summer, scores well in most of the categories. But the fledgling cow still needs to put on more if it wants to stack up with the big prize cattle. He said he hopes that will be the case next year, when she grows to full size.
In the competition, desirable traits include bone structure, rib cage, straight legs and mammary size, he said. Right now her size and weight are the biggest problem, but she scored well in the other categories.
Knowing how to judge dairy cattle is just one of the litany of skills on which members of the club were tested at the fair, said 4-H Club Director Matthew P. Greene. The team also competed in a dairy challenge in which members were asked to complete a series of 10 exercises in short 12-minute intervals. Stations included exercises on such topics as farm safety, herd health, reproduction, cattle feed and dairy products.
To illustrate, Mr. Greene said, at one station students were asked to analyze a large diagram with more than 200 safety hazards. Such exercises require speedy critical thinking skills that are invaluable for any dairy farmer.
They had to quickly find out what needs to be done to prevent accidents, he said.
Casey S. Porter, 16, a junior at South Jefferson High School, took 10th place in the individual cattle judging competition out of a pool of 47 competitors. She now will advance to compete in a 4-H regional dairy judging contest later this month in Harrisburg, Pa.
Mr. Greene, whos led the club for 11 years, said the class that competed set the best marks as a team. The group meets weekly from January through March at Jefferson Countys Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Watertown, and at least once a month after that. The club competes in the 4-H Dairy Bowl in the winter and goes on numerous field trips during the year.
This group has been together for about five years, and we have a lot of fun together, he said, adding that the group isnt only for those pursuing careers in agriculture. We call this dirty biology, because we do hands-on learning that involves everything from plant biology to mammal anatomy. Its like a giant lab.