Udderly magnificent: 4-H and the finer points of dairy cow judging
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Devon Knutson sat in a chair beneath the shade of a tree as a dozen 4-H members waited patiently for an audience.
The pope himself rarely has it so good.
In turn, each one of the dozen or so members of the JQ's Livestock club in attendance last week at the Rohner Dairy in Baker Valley for a dairy cow judging contest approached Knutson, then politely but with conviction explained their reasons for picking one dairy cow over another during a competition that 4-H calls andquot;Oral Reasons.andquot; There weren't any right answers, so club members didn't necessarily have to rank the four cows in the order that Knutson, who's been doing this sort of thing for a long time.
But if they didn't, they'd better have had a pretty good reason. And they had to do some pretty fancy talking to get Knutson who is the OSU Extension office's dairy cow specialist for Malheur and Baker counties to see their point.
In the end, the overall champion came from the intermediate division (grades 7 through 9), Dorothea Coomer. Other divisional champions were senior division blue ribbon winner Emily Moore and junior division (grades 4 through 6) champion John Taylor Rohner.
But before club members were ready to pit their judging skill against his, Knutson took his young charges through a series of charts designed to make them more discerning judges.
One chart had a drawing of one good-looking udder hidden among a host of problem udders.
andquot;What are you looking for in a decent udder?andquot; Knutson asked the club, and members told him: essentially, you're looking for something that will hold up to a milking machine twice a day.
Another of Knutson's charts featured good, feminine-looking bovine necks and others that weren't so desirable.
It was sort of like a beauty contest with an agricultural purpose.
Then there was a turn on andquot;Pin the tail on the donkey.andquot; Participants weren't blind-folded, and instead of a tail, they had to pin the thurl on a cow.
Knutson had club members use velcro to attach the proper names of cow body parts to the cow itself. After a little initial confusion, not even terms like andquot;stifle,andquot; andquot;chineandquot; and andquot;barrelandquot; could keep the club from scoring 100 percent.
Once the classroom work was completed, it was time for the club's road test. Earlier, the day's hosts, John and Kate Rohner, had selected 16 cows and divided them into four classes.
Club members were to take the lessons they'd just learned and rank each of the four cows first to last in each of the four classes.
Two of the classes were virtual no-brainers even a visitor got a perfect score simply by noting the milk production of each of the cows and ranking them in that order, from most prodigious to least.
But for two classes, the cows were too young for production records, and the visitor suffered his comeuppance with scores of andquot;zeroandquot; for that half of the competition.
andquot;It's not quite that simple,andquot; Knutson said with a smile.
Dana Russell, who at 13 years old will begin her freshman year at North Powder High School in September, said she appreciated the judging competition because it helped her cement in her mind what she's looking for in a good heifer. She plans to show her two-year-old cow at the Baker County Fair after it was the best (and only) in the Union County Stock Show.
andquot;It also helps us with showmanship for fair season,andquot; she said.
Besides instilling confidence and imparting a few facts about cows that club members might not have previously known, last week's exercise in fact, 4-H membership in general has at least one additional benefit, said one of the club's advisors, Michelle Kaseberg.
All the discipline of record-keeping and all the pressure of performing well in front of one's friends and peers will one day make 4-H members quite employable, she said.
andquot;As an employer, I'm always searching resumes for 4-H, FFA or Scouting,andquot; she said. andquot;It takes a lot of responsibility to care for an animal or work as a team. If they can do a good job with their record-keeping now, they can do a spreadsheet later.andquot;