July 13, 2023 at 11:31 a.m.
Updated July 19, 2023 at 11:31 a.m.
When Lanna Walter was talked into joining the Stearns County 4-H Dairy Judging Team in 2021, she was excited, she said, to spend time with the other members of the team. However, she never envisioned the time with them would include international travel.
Walter is one of the four Stearns County 4-H members who had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in dairy judging across the Atlantic in Scotland and Ireland. The other members of the team include Megan and Tyler Ratka of Cold Spring and Dan Frericks of Melrose. The team was coached by Tara Meyer of Sauk Centre, Sadie Frericks of Melrose and Kevin Ratka of Cold Spring.
While judging abroad, the team participated in two different judging contests, the Royal Highland Show June 24 in Scotland and the Clonmel Show July 2 in Ireland. At both competitions, the team experienced differences in the judging process that were new to them.
“The first contest, in Scotland, was different from how we’ve ever judged before,” Walter said.
All of the team’s previous contests until this point had been pretty similar in structure. There are normally 12 minutes given for judging the non-reasons classes and 15 minutes for reasons classes.
“At this contest, we had four minutes for all of the classes,” Walter said. “Although we were surprised, overall, we did pretty well with the circumstances.”
The second competition, which took place in Ireland, was still very different. However, this particular contest was more similar to what the team was familiar with, as the judging priorities were more similar and they had a longer time to place the cattle.
The main difference was that the team was able to judge in a team-like setting, where they could correspond with each other and submit one scorecard for the entire team. They also judged the animals at the same time as the official contest judge.
“We did way better in that contest, taking third place,” Walter said. “It was really fun to place well as we judged for the last time as this team of four.”
Walter said they also noticed differences in what judges focused on in the contests.
“They just judge differently by prioritizing different things than we do,” Walter said.
The team’s journey to the international contest began last fall at the 2022 Minnesota State Fair. The team took home first place there, advancing them to the national competition at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. While in Madison, the team placed third, which earned them the international dairy judging trip. The trip was a bittersweet opportunity for the members of the team. Now that they have competed at the national level, they are no longer eligible to compete in dairy judging at the national level again.
Their team is one of seven that advanced to the international level of judging. The teams competing abroad included three 4-H teams and four FFA teams from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
While abroad, the team, coaches and parents did much more than just participate in the competitions. They traveled throughout Scotland, Ireland and England, seeing tourist attractions and touring dairy farms.
“My favorite experience while we were there was either kissing the Blarney Stone or visiting an almost all Ayrshire farm,” Walter said.
Walter said she enjoyed taking advantage of the opportunity she was given to learn about farming in other countries.
“We were able to talk to the farmers about how they farm differently from how we do,” Walter said. “It was interesting to learn the differences.”
Most of the farms the team visited throughout their international adventures participate in seasonal dairying, where the calves are all born in the spring and the cows are not milked throughout the winter.
Another difference that Walter said she found interesting was the lack of alfalfa.
“They pretty much only feed grass in both Scotland and Ireland,” Walter said. “They can’t grow a lot more than just grass.”
The group attended six different dairy farm tours while on their 14-day excursion throughout the three European countries.
Settled again at her home outside of Sauk Centre, Walter looked back at all of the adventures that dairy judging has given her and said that she is most appreciative of how close the four members of the team were by the end of the experience.
“It was easy,” Walter said. “The team was easy to talk to and easy to hang out with. They are just fun people to be around.”