The Virginia Tech Dairy Cattle Judging Team finished another great year, placing first in a field of 19 teams at the 89th Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 28. The team also placed first at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 19.

The national champion team members include

  • Paula Craun, sophomore agricultural and applied economics major from Bridgewater, Va.;
  • Derek Heizer, junior dairy science major from Middlebrook, Va.;
  • Hannah Smith, senior dairy science major from Clear Spring, Md.; and
  • Parker Welch, junior dairy science major from Chestertown, Md.

Other team members include

  • Caitlin Patrick, sophomore dairy science major from Woodbine, Md.;
  • Dana Gochenour, junior dairy science major from Woodstock, Va.;
  • Rosemary Liskey, senior dairy science major from Harrisonburg, Va.; and
  • Kelly Johnson, sophomore dairy science major from York, Pa.

The coaches are Michael Barnes, professor of dairy science, and Katharine Knowlton, associate professor of dairy science, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

According to Barnes, dairy cattle at the World Dairy Expo are evaluated by judging how closely their body conformation approximates the “ideal conformation” purebred model established for the particular breed of cattle they are evaluating. This conformation evaluation considers correctness of udder, frame/body structure, feet and legs, mobility, and evidence of high milk production. Students evaluate two classes each of six different breeds of dairy cattle (12 classes in total), take notes, and then make individual, formal oral presentations to officials on six of those classes to justify their placement.

This is the third national contest win in the last four years for Virginia Tech. The team also garnered high team overall in oral reasons presentation. Craun and Smith were the second and third highest individuals, respectively.

The team also placed first overall at the Eastern States Exposition, with Welch being awarded high individual in that contest. Welch placed first in the Ayrshire and Jersey breed divisions, Johnson placed first in Milking Shorthorns, and Craun placed first in Holsteins. Patrick, Gochenour, and Liskey competed as a second team and placed first in oral reasons; Liskey placed second overall.

“The collegiate judging team experience is highly valued by potential employers in all phases of the agricultural industry,” Barnes said. “Students competing on high-profile judging teams are typically recognized and sought-after by all sorts of industry employers.”

Last fall, Heizer and Smith competed on the Virginia Tech B team at the North American International Livestock Exposition. At that contest, the team placed third overall and was high team in oral reasons. Heizer was fifth overall that day, the highest of all Virginia Tech competitors, and Smith was third high individual in reasons.

“Not all B-team kids try out for a spot on the next year’s A team,” Knowlton said, “but we were sure glad these two did.”

Prior to traveling to Wisconsin, the Virginia Tech team placed fourth at the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa.

“The department and college value these types of competitive, educational judging team activities tremendously – not because faculty care so much about how well students can judge differences in cattle, livestock, horses, soils, etc. – but because of the dramatic improvement in evaluation, problem-solving, decision-making, and oral justification skills that students gain,” said Barnes.

Barnes has been coaching at Virginia Tech since 1981, having previously coached teams at Clemson University and the University of Connecticut. Knowlton has previous experience coaching teams at Michigan State University and the University of Maryland while she was a graduate student.

Written by Ashley Estes of Chesterfield, Va., a senior majoring in communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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