MADISON, Wis. – Any 4-Her who has ever picked up a clipboard and memorized the parts of a cow dreams of one day winning the state 4-H dairy judging contest for the chance to judge on the hallowed colored shavings of World Dairy Expo in the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest.
That dream came true earlier this summer for four young ladies from Manitowoc County who have been judging together since before they were old enough to actually participate in a 4-H contest. The dream went a little farther Sept. 27, when they were the final team announced during the awards banquet as the overall winner of the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in Madison, Wisconsin. They are the fourth consecutive team from Wisconsin to win the contest, and the fifth team in the last six years.
“We have no thoughts left, just such joy,” said teammate, Lauren Siemers the night of the contest after learning the results. “I think we are all still in shock, wondering what just happened.”
Outdistancing the second-place team from Florida by 10 points, the Manitowoc County 4-Hers were led in the contest by Clarissa Ulness of Valders, Wisconsin, who placed third individually in the contest, a mere four points behind the contest winner. One point behind Clarissa, in fourth place overall, was teammate Jenna Gries of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Lauren Siemers of Kiel, Wisconsin, and Emma Vos of Maribel, Wisconsin, rounded out the team, which was coached by Lauren’s dad, Paul Siemers, and Clarissa’s mom, Angie Ulness.
On their way to the top team title, the young appraisers won the oral reasons portion of the contest, finishing 12 points ahead of the team from Florida. Jenna topped that portion of the contest, followed by Clarissa in seventh place and Lauren in eighth place.
The team won the Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White breeds, while placing second in the Jerseys, third in the Guernseys and fifth in the Holsteins. Individually, Jenna topped four breeds: Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Red and Whites, and placed 10th in the Jerseys. Lauren placed fourth in the Brown Swiss and eighth in the Jersey, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White breeds. Clarissa placed fifth in the Jerseys, seventh in the Milking Shorthorn and Red and Whites and ninth in the Brown Swiss. Emma placed fifth in the Guernsey breed.
For their efforts, the team earned the right to travel, pandemic permitting, to the Royal Highland Show in Edenborough, Scotland, to take part in the International Dairy Judging Contest.     
Angie and Paul have worked as a team coaching in the Manitowoc County 4-H dairy judging program for well over 10 years. This was their third time coaching a team at the national contest, having finished second and third previously. Angie also coached a winning team from Door County in 2002.
“Paul and I are just very lucky to come from a county with such an extensive dairy infrastructure with great parental support,” Angie said. “These are four very bright, successful girls; I am so proud. I know they will all go on and make a difference in our industry.”
The teammates all agree that without the guidance and knowledge they have gleaned from years of working with their coaches, the national championship title would have been unlikely.
“All of the years of working at learning how to judge and then how to give reasons; the highs and the lows, the classes that build your confidence and the ones that tear it down,” Clarissa said recalling her years of competitive judging. “Mom and Paul have taught us how to use all of it to our advantage, and to learn from every experience.”
Both Clarissa and Lauren agreed that winning the contest not only feels good on a personal level, but it also feels like a gift to their parents.  
“It feels so good to do this for our parents, to help them achieve a dream,” Clarissa said.
As many young judging contestants can attest, confidence in a day’s performance is sometimes a fleeting thing. Despite the frequency of times her name was called throughout the awards banquet that evening, Jenna said throughout the day she had her doubts about her own performance.
“I thought three sets of reasons went OK, but the other two I did not think went well,” Jenna said. “I really did not feel confident about my Brown Swiss reasons, but then I topped that. I must have said something right.”
While the girls may have questioned how their day went, their coaches never doubted them for a moment.
“I told them in our team meeting that this was where preparation would meet opportunity, and it was time to capitalize on it,” said Angie. “They really kept their heads in the game and did not waiver.”
Paul agreed with his coaching partner.
“I am so very proud of them,” Paul said. “They have been doing this since they were little. Three of them were on the team that we took to the Harrisburg contest in 2019. They have become a very close-knit, cohesive group.”
For Emma the contest was an experience she will never forget.
“We have all attended World Dairy Expo ever since were little,” Vos said. “To be able to judge on the colored shavings, and then win, that is just an amazing feeling.”
After years of watching these young women learn and grow, Paul said he never doubted his team and knew that great things lay ahead for them.
“They placed second in our district contest earlier this summer,” Paul said. “It might sound cocky, but after that Angie and I booked the hotel rooms for this. We were that confident that was how good and how ready they were to go all the way; no question in our minds.”