Life lessons

WOOSTER, Ohio – Twelve-year-old Kassi Krebs stands patiently in line, her hands on her hips.
As she waits, cars roll into the Wayne County Fairgrounds and young people pile out. More than 80 kids are coming from around the state to compete in a judging contest at the county’s first Dairy Youth Spectacular.
Done registering, Kassi walks away from the show ring, blond ponytail swaying. She and a friend, Melissa King-Smith, want to see if all of the cows have arrived for the contest.
As they walk, Melissa asks Kassi about the cows they are about to judge. It’s Melissa’s first contest and she’s nervous.
“You want the front part of the udder to look like a football and the back to have a good crease with visible veins,” Kassi calmly answers.
She bends down and points to the four quarters of the udder as Melissa watches.
Getting easier. Kassi, who’s been judging dairy cows for three years, was not always this confident. Scared and nervous the first couple of years, she says she didn’t do well.
Her mom admits she pressured Kassi into judging.
“I made her,” Sherry Smith confessed. “If she wanted to show, she had to learn what to look for.”
Kassi and her mom have Brown Swiss, Holstein, and one Jersey cow and live on the Schirm Dairy farm, owned by Paul and Dawn Schirm.
In the short term, judging helps with showmanship and being able to compete, Smith says. Oral reasons teach Kassi how to stand in front of someone, stand up for herself and be able to explain her point of view.
It took her a few years, but now Kassi understands what to look for.
“It’s fun and it helps me improve on showing and get a better eye for the animals and to see things from a judge’s point of view,” she says.
Kassi takes Brown Swiss and Holsteins to the Wayne County Fair and is a member of the Blue Ribbon 4-H Dairy Club.
Today, her biggest rivals are her fellow 4-H members; they practice judging together before the big contests.
“Once I step in the ring, they really aren’t my friends anymore, they are my competition,” she said, grabbing a pitchfork to clean a mess behind an Ayrshire.
* * *
Participants line the arena fence, waiting to judge the five breeds. It’s an array of matching judging team shirts, barn clothes and green and white 4-H shirts.
Kassi talks to her friends as she sits on the bleachers.
Before her first contests, she would sit with her mom, who judges dairy shows and is the coach for the Wayne County dairy judging team. Smith would give Kassi last-minute pointers to calm her nerves.
But today she is on her own.
Getting started. With a brown clipboard in hand, she listens as the announcer divides them into two groups, then walks quickly, but silently, to the south end of the coliseum where volunteers lead four Guernseys into the ring.
She bends over, rests the clipboard on her knee and writes the questions for the first breed as a women reads them aloud.
As the cattle walk around the ring, Kassi studies them carefully and when the volunteers line them up head to tail, she walks closer to get a better look.
She jots a placing down and steps away.
Glancing back at the cows, she turns her yellow pencil upside down to erase an answer and scribbles a different number.
Folding her arms over the clipboard in satisfaction, she hands in her first scoring sheet.
One down, four to go. The Guernsey class is easy, Kassi says. When she first looks at a class, before she even knows the questions, she decides good and bad things about each animal.
In this class, she has to choose which cow has the most dairy character. While deciding, she looks for which one is the strongest, biggest, most muscular, with no dip in its back.
After she has picked her answers, she tries to give good reasons in her head for each decision. She knows her mom will ask her later about the logic behind her choices.
Group one and two switch places in the arena.
As the Jerseys enter the arena, Kassi again writes the questions as they are read.
She walks around to the far side of the ring and kneels. Checking the udder, she looks for which one has the widest teat placement.
She writes on her clipboard, hugs it to her chest and looks back at the cows.
Pondering her answers, she scratches the right side of her head and taps her cheek with the eraser on her pencil.
Jerseys more difficult. This was a harder class. Jerseys are a more difficult breed to judge because they all look similar, she says, and have different characteristics than other dairy cows.
Straight tops do not matter in Jerseys, so deciding which has the strongest back is hard, she explains.
“This breed’s just kind of crooked,” she says.
Next class. Next, she gets out her Ayrshire score card and the cows parade in.
It is silent in the coliseum as the contestants walk around the cows.
After watching the cows and writing some answers, she is stuck on the hardest question in this class: Which cow has the most compact ribbing?
It is hard to see the compactness of their ribs without touching the cow, she says.
Kassi turns in her score card and switches to the other end of the arena to judge Holsteins.
More than half way through the contest, and she is confident in her decisions … so far.
She again stares at each cow, occasionally looking down at her score card to re-read the questions.
This is Kassi’s favorite class because she’s been around Holsteins the longest, but it’s still challenging.
The speckling, like on No. 3 in the ring, makes the body structure hard to see, so she walks closer to get a better look.
She quickly makes her choices and hands in her score card.
Between classes, she writes down her overall placing on the question sheet, writes the breed above the numbers and circles it so she can remember how she placed each class.
Final class. The last breed to be judged is the Brown Swiss. Both groups one and two gather in the middle of the ring to judge the class together.
Kassi puts her pencil behind her ear as she walks away from turning in her last score card.
“The Brown Swiss placings were really easy,” she says. “It was simple to pick out the best one because the other three were overweight. We don’t want to see a wide rump in these cows or any dairy cows.”
After all the score cards are in, the official judge, Chris Lahmers, brings out each breed and explains the answers and the rankings.
Kassi tries to remember what she had written on her score card and talks with her friends about the choices they made.
Then Kassi’s mom gives an oral reasoning clinic, encouraging 4-H’ers to be able to explain their choices.
Officials announce the winners of each class.
Kassi’s name isn’t announced, but she finishes in the top half of the junior division.
Looking at her score, she realizes it was the Guernsey class that hurt her score the most.
“I just didn’t get that class; I liked one that wasn’t suitable to the judge,” she says.
She may not have got the Guernsey class and she may not have won the contest, but she did get what her mom had hoped for … an experience that’s about more than just judging cattle.
An experience that’s about analyzing and making decisions, which is something that will be useful long after her judging days are over.
(Editorial intern Katy Wuthrick can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at


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