U dairy cattle judging team savors sweet milky successes

Branden Peterson

People driving up or down Minnesota’s interstates see – and smell – windmills, silos, cornfields and cows throughout the Midwest heartland. Many don’t take much notice of them.

For a group of University students, watching cows is an art -an art in which they are considered to be one of the best.

The University’s dairy cattle judging team took first place in oral reasoning Oct. 1 at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisc., with one team member capturing first place individual honors.

Tara Sammon, an applied economics major at the University, accomplished that rare feat. It is something a University student has not done since 1981. She competed against more than 100 students from 27 intercollegiate teams across the nation.

“She had sheer determination and she had so much joy in learning this and doing it,” said Les Hansen, animal science professor and dairy cattle judging coach.

“She was just cranked and ready to roll. They all have that similar spirit.”

Sammon and fellow University seniors Ryan Griffin, Kelly Sheehan and Morgan Strusz competed on the squad, each of them aiming to place in the top 25 in individual competition.

“This is a very talented group, and they are going to be an incredibly successful group of people,” he said.

The opportunity to coach the University’s dairy cattle judging team lured Hansen back to the University in 1981. Now, more than 20 years later, Hansen still loves teaching tomorrow’s dairy industry leaders, drawing more people into the program and traveling with his students to competitions all over the country.

Hansen said he and his assistants were eagerly awaiting this year’s competitions. He said the squad is known for producing high honors in each contest it enters.

Experienced dairy cattle judgers explain the skill of analyzing cows from their hoofs to their height, predicting how the animals’ physical characteristics make for high dividends in dairy production.

“We were pretty bold beforehand,” Hansen said. “We were thinking this may be the top group we’ve ever had – definitely the top group we’ve ever had in oral reasons.”

The first place finish in oral reasoning also helped the team take fourth place in the overall competition.

Now that the season is complete, Hansen said the future is bright. He said this year’s winners are a testament to decades of strong academic and field work.

“We do have a reputation for having good students,” Hansen said. “The other thing is that we have a reputation of putting a lot of people in leadership spots in the industry.

“It’s these types of activities – working together, communications – that helps the University of Minnesota have that type of reputation.”

“It’s a great networking tool with people in the industry,” team member Sheehan said.

All team members said they met many of their competitors years ago in programs such as the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America. And there’s nothing quite like old-fashioned rivalry to keep competition at its highest level.

“We know so many people in the other universities, it’s the competitive drive,” Sammon said. “It’s the people we’re going to see the rest of our lives.”

“Our team works really well together, and we have improved equally over the years,” Sheehan said.

Installed in 1916, the Univesity dairy cattle judging team is the second oldest intercollegiate cattle judging program in the nation.


Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]