Not many can claim “top 10 in America” status at anything. But, while representing Minnesota this past weekend, four McLeod County 4-H’ers did just that.
“It was really awesome to have this opportunity,” said Mckenzie Swanson, a senior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Acoma Acorns 4-H club. “I never thought it would happen.”
Swanson and her three teammates — Kiley Lickfelt, Allison Wright and Emma Friauf — competed Monday with the nation’s top 13 teams in the 4-H division of the All American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They earned their spot at the Minnesota State Fair.
“It was an honor to represent Minnesota,” Swanson said.
The national dairy show, now in its 51st year, had 48 teams competing in four divisions. Teams judged 10 classes of cows, ranking four animals based on their experience assessing the animals. The animals are ranked based on a scorecard system. The udder is worth 40 percent of the score, followed by dairy strength, feet and legs and frame.
“When we compete we are all together in a show arena,” said Lickfelt, a senior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Lynn Hustlers 4-H club. “The animals are led around the ring in front of us and shown. It’s up to us to think to ourselves, and remember the knowledge we have about the specific breeds of cows we are judging.”
Each team member makes decisions individually, and their assessments are judged individually, but each team member’s scores are added up to a team total.
“Normally we start (learning) really young working on the farm,” said Wright, a junior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Acoma Acorns 4-H club. “We have been showing since we were young, so we know what a good animal looks like. And we have been taught by our coaches.”
In addition to their scores from their rankings, each team member receives another score based on how well they present their reasoning.
“In the reason (section), the placing is thrown out of it and it’s just your reasons why you put one over the other,” Wright said.
Because each member of each team makes decisions individually, the all-day tournament was unusually quiet for the size of its crowd. And competitors brought a serious attitude into the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
“When we showed up the morning of the judging contest, we all had to be in our formal business attire,” said Friauf, a freshman at South Dakota State University and member of the Otter Lake Royal Juniors 4-H club. “We all wore suits. There were a lot of other teams all dressed up. Everyone looked professional. And when you walk in it’s like you are walking into a barn, so you are in this business suit and all you can smell are cows.”
All four team members grew up on area dairy farms or have worked on one. They were coached by Kari Swanson of Hutchinson, Lana Beckard of Silver Lake and Barry Visser of Hutchinson. Sierra Swanson of Hutchinson was also at the show with the University of Minnesota Team, competing in a different category. McLeod County saw further representation at the show, as the collegiate coach for the University of Minnesota was Nate Donnay of Glencoe, and with South Dakota State University was Dani Tews of Hutchinson.
“It was interesting to see the different states there for the contest,” Lickfelt said. “Not all states were represented, but some like Florida you wouldn’t expect to have a dairy judging team. And they did really well.”
Overall, the McLeod County team representing Minnesota took 10th place in the 4-H division. It took fifth place in judging Brown Swiss. Lickfelt was fifth place in Brown Swiss and fourth place in Jerseys. Swanson was fourth place in Brown Swiss.
“Everyone there was the best in the state,” Friauf said. “So we knew competition would be tough. ... To have won the trip and make it to this contest was just a big accomplishment in itself. And to make it to the top 10 made it that much better.”