The third time is a charm

Colby FFA dominates state dairy judging contest

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COLBY, Wis. — With determination and dedication, four members of the Colby FFA Chapter picked up their clipboards, sharpened their No. 2 pencils, made their placings and took the Dairy Cattle Evaluation and Management Career Development Event by storm April 25 in Madison.

The team, which consists of seniors Jazmyn Heeg and Breanne Zawislan and juniors Ella Raatz and Jenelle Ertl, won the state FFA contest convincingly, out-pacing the second-place team by 49 points. Three of the four team members placed in the top 10 individually: Heeg in fifth place, Zawislan in eighth and Raatz in 10th.

The team will advance to the national contest this fall at the National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“The third time was a charm for us,” Raatz said. “This is the third time we’ve competed at the state contest. It was amazing to find out that we’d won this time.”

The state contest consisted of four placings classes and two oral reasons classes. The students also evaluated two pedigree classes, where they compared and ranked pedigrees based on the genetic merit of four animals.

“The reasons classes were the toughest of the day, but all the classes broke down into pairs pretty well for me,” Raatz said. “Having the contest at the Midwest National Spring Show allows us to see high-quality animals.”

While the placings sorted out easily for them, the girls agreed that the time and dedication they put into reasons have paid great dividends.

“I used to write my reasons out in a paragraph and tried to memorize them,” Heeg said. “This year, Ella showed me an easier way to do it. My reasons have definitely become better, learning to compare each cow properly and recalling the cows in my mind as I am giving the reasons.”

For the four girls, dairy judging is a year-round pursuit to hone their skills. Raatz and Ertl had experience judging as 4-H members. Dairy judging was something Heeg and Zawislan picked up in high school as FFA members.

“Living on a farm, dairy judging is kind of part of the day-to-day routine whether we realize it or not,” Zawislan said. “I plan to really work on judging colored breeds before the national contest this fall.”

Heeg agreed. She said a recent experience on her family’s farm was made easier because of the judging skills she has developed and increased her efficiency at evaluating animals.

“I spent a couple of weeks going through my family’s herd, all 1,400 cows, evaluating them as potential robot cows to determine which ones should move into our new robotic facility,” Heeg said. “I was looking for cows with square udders, level on the udder floor, with correct teat placement. We wanted smaller, more efficient cows with good feet and legs to do go into the robots.”

Ertl hopes to take over her family’s 100-cow dairy farm with her siblings. She said that the skills she is learning will help her improve their herd.

“My judging skills will help me make the best decisions, selecting bulls to use in our herd,” Ertl said. “I’ve learned what kind of animals make the best cows.”

Competition and camaraderie are the key draws that keep each of the four young judges coming back to compete in the event.

“We all enjoy being competitive in judging,” Heeg said. “We have come to realize we all have the skill set to be good, and now we have proven ourselves. We know we can always continue to improve on those skills.”

Career development is a core principle in the FFA CDE contests, and the girls agreed that the benefits of judging go far beyond simply evaluating cows.

“I have learned to become confident in my decisions,” Zawislan said. “Giving reasons has taught me how to explain myself and my ideas to defend my thoughts.”

Other core character skills like determination and perseverance are a part of the dairy judging package, Raatz said.

“It is important to keep trying, to never give up,” Raatz said. “That is the best advice I could share with someone. Stick with it no matter how tough things might seem. We will keep preparing for the national contest, sharpening our skills. Hopefully, that dedication will pay off for us in October.”

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