By WHITNEY GRAY
During MU’s first 4-H Dairy Judging Camp, middle and high school students visited three different dairy farms and participated in discussions to learn how to properly evaluate dairy cows. The camp began Tuesday and ended Thursday.
Brothers Burke, 14, and Tyler, 12, Echelmeier were two of the 10 students at the camp. Being around cows was a common occurrence for them because of their experience on the family farm, Echo-L, in Fulton. While the boys had been to cow camps before, the MU camp was the first they had been to that focused on thoroughly judging livestock.
“In the other cow camps, we learned how to judge, fit and show the cows,” Burke Echelmeier said.
Tyler said he hopes his knowledge of working with and judging cows will someday result in a spot on the Missouri 4-H Dairy Judging Team.
This year marks the first time Columbia has played host to the camp, which has been held in Springfield for the past 13 years.
Campers ranged in age from 12 to 18, and had 4-H adult chaperones. The campers stayed at the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house on campus. Aside from teaching campers what traits to look for in a well-bred dairy cow, the program was a chance to introduce students to MU.
“A lot of these students have never been to Columbia before, so being here is good exposure to what Columbia and MU have to offer,” said Karla Deaver, a 4-H youth specialist.
On Tuesday. the MU farm was the first stop for the students. It primarily raises Holstein Friesian cattle — the most common breed of dairy cattle in the United States, according to Barry Steevens, an MU Extension state dairy specialist — and a select herd of Guernseys. After getting protective footwear, students headed to the barn with scorecards and notebooks in hand to start their evaluations. Each card listed the attributes students were to evaluate: dairy character, frame, feet and legs, body capacity and udder.
Deaver said the most important attribute that a judge takes into consideration is the udder.
“The cows must have a high, wide rear udder, long smooth fore udder attachment and a strong median suspensory ligament, which holds the udder on the cow,” Deaver said.
Bethany Galloway, 17, said she came to the camp to learn a new skill. Before coming to the camp she had only judged beef cows.
“Beef cows are different because they are only used to produce beef, never milk,” Galloway said.
Adrian Buff had also grown up on a farm with cows, only his farm was in Switzerland. Due to Swiss government regulations, his family came to America in 1995 and bought a new farm in Ava. Now 18 years old, Buff said he enjoys living there.
Buff said he came to the camp to get better at judging. “I want to increase my knowledge in judging and breeding cattle.” In the future, Buff hopes to invest his knowledge and experience with cows on his own farm.
The campers were able to judge three classes of cattle at the MU farm, and were required not only to rank them but also to give an explanation as to how they reached their decisions.
Deaver said the exercise not only helps campers learn how to judge but also helps them build important life skills.
“By asking for a reason on why they chose to rank the cows in that order, it helps them learn the ability to make and defend decisions they make,” Deaver said.
The campers also toured two other farms during their stay. On Wednesday, they traveled south to Brandt Farm in Linn, and on Thursday they visited the Echo-L farm in Fulton.
The two MU Extension specialists, Deaver and Probert, said that whether the camp happens again depends on the students’ feedback.
“We need to do what’s beneficial to them, so if they want to do this again, we will,” Deaver said.
For their part, the Echelmeiers were pleased with their experience and said they would come to the camp again if they had the chance.
“If you want to learn how to judge, this is the perfect place to be,” Tyler said.