Members of the Fillmore County 4-H dairy judging team, from left, are coach Stacy Leiding, Kayla Leiding, Haely Leiding, Abby Hopp and Travis Troendle. The team will attend the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., this coming Monday.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Members of the Fillmore County 4-H dairy judging team, from left, are coach Stacy Leiding, Kayla Leiding, Haely Leiding, Abby Hopp and Travis Troendle. The team will attend the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., this coming Monday. SUBMITTED PHOTO
How now, black and white cow?

Abby Hopp, Travis Troendle and Haely and Kayla Leiding will be the judge of that.

Abby, of Chatfield, and Travis, Kayla and Haely, all of Lanesboro, are Fillmore County's stars of the Minnesota State Fair 4-H dairy judging competition. The team earned first place in the state dairy judging contest held on Sept. 1 at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, advancing to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., this coming Monday, Sept. 30.

The expo, a national dairy convention, "consists of a dairy show and many booths pertaining to the dairy industry," stated Travis.

For the team, it's the culmination of months of practicing judging cows' traits and giving reasons why they placed each cow in its respective slot in an animal grading system.

The Fillmore County dairy judging team normally meets once a week, unless there's a scheduling conflict, and they spend their time at various farms around the area, rounding up groups of four cows to judge at a time.

According to Abby, "We practice all summer at different farms and attended various county fair judging contests such as Fillmore, Olmsted, Steele, Mower, Wabasha. We practice judging classes at different farms throughout the area and practice giving sets of reasons. I practice on my own dairy, looking at cattle on our farm."

The "when" of the start of practice depends how one may look at it, noted Travis, who also pointed out, "At the beginning of the summer, we began going to weekly practices and going to other county fairs to judge, but all of this practice couldn't have happened just this summer, because it had to be built upon for many years, and we have been practicing since third grade."

The 4-Hers have also dedicated hours to preparing their own livestock for the county and state fairs. Travis showed swine, dairy and several non-livestock projects, Haely and Kayla showed sheep and dairy cattle at the county fair, and Abby had swine and her dairy cow, Macy, to show.

However well they do with their own animals, dairy judging has taught them numerous things.

Travis related, "I have learned many things and some I will probably never realize that I learned. Some of the things that I have learned are public speaking skills through doing reasons and the basic knowledge about the dairy industry that is important to have."

Abby agreed, "I have learned many things while I have been on the dairy team. I have learned memorization and presenting skills when giving my reasons. I have also learned to be confident in myself and my placings."

All four enjoy sharing what they know about the dairy industry and meeting other 4-Hers from counties around the state, bringing together contestants for one of the most calcium-rich contests in Minnesota.

Kayla cited, "The most exciting part of judging for my sister and I was we had identical placings in reasons and in (overall) placings, which doesn't happen often. It was also exciting knowing that we beat some really tough competitors to win the contest. Personally, I really enjoy learning more about the cows each time I go to a contest and actually judge. From listening to others' reasons and by giving my own, I learn new terms and information every time."

The teammates have been judging together for many years, are very close to one another and are competitive within the group, but when it comes to the deciding facts and points, they're definitely cheering for one another.

Travis added, "The most exciting thing about judging is sitting in the room when they are giving results and they keep listing names and yours hasn't been called yet.

Abby recalled, "At the awards ceremony they start at tenth place and go up to first place. Senior team results were at the end of the ceremony. We knew we did fairly well, and when they announced the second place team and it wasn't us, we knew we had won."

Abby added that she had been filled with mixed emotions, including shock and happiness. "I was proud of myself and my team, but at the same time I was nervous," she explained. "I realized that I had to compete at the national contest as a sophomore. Our team placed first overall and second in reasons in the senior division."

Though they did marvelously at the state fair, the 4-Hers were already "exhausted" from spending the first several days of the fair showing their livestock projects, so by the time they returned for the 4-H dairy judging show, they had had to use every spare moment to snooze.

"The fact that we had been at state fair for quite a few days made us really tired of having to judge at 7:30 in the morning," Kayla said. "It was also extremely warm during the contest. We also had some really tough competitors that we had been neck and neck with all summer long."

Competition at the expo will be tough since the team is competing against the top team from each state, and rumor has it that at least 25 other states were sending teams.

Travis observed, "There will be very tough competition at expo. The teams consist of the top team from every state that chooses to come, and last that I heard there was 26 teams."

Haely noted, "I think since it is a national contest, there comes a prestige with the name and everything we'll be doing. We all will cherish every moment because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Travis looks forward to going to the expo as a competitor. "I have been to the expo before but I have never been judging there before. I love going around to all the stands and seeing the things the dairy industry has to offer.

He added that he has been judging for a very long time and learned many things. "I appreciate the opportunities that have been given to me and the people who have helped me along the way," Travis said. "It will be great to be able to represent Fillmore County and Minnesota at the World Dairy Expo."

Abby anticipates the expo because it challenges her judging skills. "I have been to World Dairy Expo before for fun with my family," she said. "I really enjoy seeing all the good quality cattle and all the exhibits set up around the expo grounds.

I will be studying on my own every day and every chance I get so I can be as good as I can be for the contest. I hope our team has fun together and I hope we try our hardest and do the best we can in the competition."

Haely commented, "We are representing our home, and our county's name is out there, so we will do our best to make everyone proud. There is no other county we would chose to represent. Thank you to everyone for the support."