Alumna Lauren Bush grew up on a dairy farm in Swartz Creek and graduated in 2013 with a degree in animal science. She said her involvement in dairy judging, one of the contests offered at the Michigan Dairy Expo, has shaped her into the successful adult she is today. The expo is hosted duing the fourth week of July each year at the MSU Pavilion.
“I never would have spoken to a crowd. I never would have wanted to talk to a stranger or do anything like that, and through this — probably over the course of six or seven years — that became my favorite part,” she said. “I was able to stand up and confidently tell people ‘this is my opinion about this.’”
The week-long event allows young people from all over Michigan involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America chapters to compete and showcase their knowledge in the many facets of the dairy industry through a series of contests and shows. The goal of the expo is to educate Michigan’s youth as well as promote the industry. It is put together by a combination of MSU faculty, MSU Extension, parents, volunteers and agribusinesses.
MSU has been hosting the expo for almost 20 years, said Department of Animal Science academic specialist Joe Domecq.
“For the 4-H'ers and for the kids, this is the culmination of the whole year. They work all winter and they work all spring for this,” Domecq said.
About 200 contestants, ranging from ages 9 to 19, are free to enter as many of the contests as they’d like, he said.
The first dairy cow exhibition took place Tuesday and the second will take place Friday.
Exhibition days are when youths bring their cows to show before a judge. Young people also have the chance to participate in dairy management, youth dairy judging and a youth quiz bowl on other days of the expo.
Domecq said the same cows shown on exhibition days are also utilized in the other contests. Dairy livestock owners allow their animals to be used to teach participants how to evaluate the good and poor traits of cows in the youth dairy judging contest.
“They evaluate four cows and they rank them from best to worst,” Domecq said. “Depending on the age ... they have to then justify their placings by giving what we call reasons. So they have to go in front of a judge and in two to three minutes explain why they ranked the cows the way they did.”
MSU Extension educator Melissa Elischer said this particular contest allows youths to learn public speaking, decision making, organization and time management.
“A great advantage we have in our educational contests is ... our youth are learning about cows, but it’s so much more than that. It’s skills they can take with them everywhere in their lives,” she said.
The contests are relative to age and if participants do well at the state level, they have the opportunity to go to national and even international competitions.
“Michigan has been represented very well at the national and international level in the last two to three years,” Domecq said.
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