UNIVERSITY PARK. – Dressing in nice attire and high heels to judge cattle might seem odd to most people, but for Penn State senior Raechel Kilgore, it’s just another day at a dairy-judging competition.
Kilgore, an animal sciences major in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, has been involved with dairy judging since she began 4-H at the age of 8. “It has always been a part of my life,” she says. “Then, when I came to Penn State, it only seemed logical to continue my judging career.”
The Airville native is part of the Penn State Dairy Judging Team, which placed first at the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg this fall. This win was extra-special: it is the first time since the 1980s that a Penn State team placed this high in this regional competition, which is usually comprised of 15-20 teams from across the country.
Previously the team earned second place at the Eastern States Exposition contest in Massachusetts, and it ranked eighth in the National Intercollegiate Contest in Madison, Wis.
“We are proud to represent Penn State, and I am happy that we could bring the honor of the All-American contest back home for the first time in more than 20 years,” says Kilgore. Senior Emily Yeiser says the contest was rewarding and exciting for her because a lot of hard work and preparation goes into each competition.
During a dairy-judging contest, the participants are given a class of four cows, and they have to place them according to their “conformation” — such factors as size, quality of udder and soundness of their feet and legs. Kilgore describes the process as looking for the cows that match the “ideal model.” Then, the participants give oral reasons, which are two-minute presentations defending their decisions, to a panel of judges. Competitors evaluate from 10 to 12 classes of cows and are scored based on how close they come to the judges’ class placements and how effectively their oral reasons are delivered.
Yeiser, an animal sciences major, says to prepare, the team visits many farms and practices judging and reasoning with three to five classes of cows per day. She says coach Dale Olver, an instructor in dairy and animal science, listens, analyzes and comments on their speech flow, terminology, detail and memory of the cows.
“The more classes and reasons that we see and give, the better we get,” the Arnold, Md., native says.
Junior Jared Daubert says there were many different situations during practices that prepared them for nearly anything they saw incontests. The McElhattan native also believes the night before a contest is important.
“Get a good night’s sleep, relax, pray and know that you will do the best that you are capable of,” Daubert says.
There were many factors that contributed to their first-place success, the student participants say. Yeiser believes the Penn State community is very supportive. “It always seemed like someone was wishing us luck,” she says.
Kilgore says she thinks the team’s determination to work hard, be serious and cooperate as a team aided their win.
“Winning helps us show that no matter where you come from or where you are headed, there is always something common between us,” Daubert, an animal sciences major, adds.
Coach Olver thinks that this team’s enthusiasm and work ethic were keys. “We are very proud of these four students in our judging program,” he says. “Their professionalism, maturity and willingness to devote many hours to practice were essential as they prepared.”
This success can also be seen in future goals, Yeiser says, because most of the team members will be involved in dairy or other agricultural industries after graduation. “The skills that we learned through dairy judging are those that can be used in everyday life,” she says.
Coach Olver agrees. “Although winning is a nice reward, the life skills of making sound decisions, defending them and working as a team will be the among the most valuable aspects for our judging-team members as they assume leadership roles in the dairy industry,” he says.