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Dairy judging team from James Buchanan tops in the nation

November 09, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Four local high school seniors recently became the top-ranked dairy judging team in the nation, and claimed the first and second individual prizes to boot.

The James Buchanan High School Future Farmers of American (FFA) Dairy Judging Team, which consisted of Aaron Horst, Meagan Meyers, John Fisher and Shaina Martin, competed against 46 teams that, like them, won top honors in their states.

The Dairy Cattle Evaluation Career Development Event took place Oct. 26-30 in Louisville, Ky., at the National FFA Convention. Dairy judging tests students' abilities to select and manage quality dairy cattle. The team won more than $6,000 in college scholarships.

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The team, along with ag teacher and dairy judging coach Lisa Shaw, plans to travel to Scotland in June 2005 for the international competition. The recent win was the first time in 77 years that an FFA team from Pennsylvania has won nationally, Shaw said.

Team member Horst, son of Kevin and Linda Horst of Edenville, Pa., placed first individually. Reached by cell phone while on his way back to Louisville to show cows at the All-American Jersey Show, Horst said he was confident going into the competition because of the intense preparation the team underwent. "My goal was to place in the top five," he said.

Horst, whose parents own MI-Rose Holsteins and Jerseys, said he plans to attend Virginia Tech to major in Dairy Science.

Being a member of the dairy judging team has helped him with his educational and career goals, he said.

In competition, participants are required to defend their placings of dairy cattle by stating their reasons.

"Giving reasons helps us to organize our thoughts and be better speakers," Horst said. "Judging is an advantage when buying cows, so you know what to look for."

Placing second in the country was Meyers of Greencastle, Pa., who works on her uncle's dairy farm. Meyers said the 10 hours of competition included general dairy knowledge questions, herd analysis, sire selections and pedigrees.

"I knew every question counted," she said, adding that "the atmosphere of 53,000 cheering FFA members was really amazing." Meyers said she is considering attending Virginia Tech to study biochemistry, and plans to become an anesthesiologist.

Martin of Mercersburg, whose parents, Chester and Jane Martin, own Two Top Holsteins, placed ninth. To prepare for the contest, the team visited local farms and scored dairy cattle. They also studied testing materials one or two class periods a day, she said.

Dairy judging "teaches you to manage your time and to be devoted to something," she added, "and to work hard at everything you do."

Martin plans to attend Penn State to major in dairy herd management.

Fisher of Greencastle, who works at Reingeer Farms of Mercersburg, said dairy judging has helped him to stay focused. "As hard as it gets, I have to suck it up and keep going," he said.

Shaw said one of the most difficult parts of the contest was the linear classification, in which individual cows are rated 1 through 50 for 15 traits such as stature, strength, udder depth and foot angle.

Contestants had to come within four points of the judges' numbers.

When a professional cow classifier, David Page of Columbia Crossroads, Pa., was in the area scoring a farmer's herd, he helped the students to understand linear classification, Shaw said. Farmers have their cows classified to establish various characteristics that predict longevity.

Higher scores raise the resale value of a cow and her offspring.

The team "won really big," Shaw said, with 128 points separating the local team from the second-place team, which was from Ohio. "Twenty to 30 points is considered a big spread," she said.

A teacher and coach at James Buchanan for 10 years, Shaw has coached dairy judging teams for 20 years, and was a member of the Penn State Judging Team during college.

Raising the $20,000 necessary for the trip to Scotland is a major undertaking, Shaw said. The team will speak to Farm Women's groups and civic organizations to raise funds.

Local building contractor Dan Ryan recently donated $1,000 toward the trip, Shaw said.

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