Three Cal Poly students traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to compete in the Royal Highlands Show, a dairy cattle judging competition, where they received first and second place as teams. Courtesy photo.

Three Cal Poly students placed first and second place in team scoring and second, third and tenth place in individual scoring at an invitational dairy cattle judging competition called the Royal Highlands Show in Edinburgh, Scotland, that was held in late June.

Agriculture business sophomore Sam Cheda, agriculture communications and diary science sophomore Mandy Brazil, and dairy science sophomore Kelli Carstensen, competed with recent high school graduate, Rocco Cunningham, representing the Petaluma Future Farmers of America (FFA). All four attended Petaluma High School and have been competing as a team for four years.

At the Royal Highlands Show, as a change of pace, the team of four was broken up into teams of two and competed against ten other teams. Carstensen and Brazil took first, and Cheda and Cunningham placed second. Individually, Cunningham took first, Brazil second, Carstensen third and Cheda tenth.

After winning the state FFA Dairy Cattle Evaluation contest at Cal Poly in May 2009 and placing second against 43 other states at a national contest in Indianapolis in October 2009, the team was invited to compete in the Royal Highlands Show, Cheda said.

“There were four classes (of dairy cattle) to judge and we were given five minutes for each class to judge for reasons and non-reasons,” Cheda said.

After, each contestant had an individual oral examination and had a maximum of two minutes to justify their placing, he said.

Dairy cattle judging is done by four cattle examined at a time, labeled one, two, three or four, but in the Royal Highlands Show, the cattle were labeled A, B, X and Y, Carstensen said. The group of four cattle is ranked and, in the case of the competition in Scotland, A is the best and Y the worst. Every group of four cattle is called a class, she said.

“Each class is worth 50 points and a certain amount of points is dropped when the official places the animal in a different order than the way you placed her,” Carstensen said.

The competitors mark scores on a scantron type of evaluation in pen so answers cannot be changed, Brazil said. They also write notes down to prepare for speeches given later in the competition, she said.

“They judge us on our reason for how accurate we are as well as public speaking abilities, stage presence and how well we explained our choices,” she said.

The whole competition is worth 400 points; 50 points given to each of the four classes of cattle (200) and then another 50 given to each explanation of why the cattle were place in that order for each class (200), Brazil said.

When a dairy cattle judge is evaluating the most desirable cattle they look at the udders, dairy strength, feet, legs and the frame, Cheda said.

“We look at each part to see how it will affect the productivity and longevity of the cow,” he said.

The difference between American and Scottish dairy cattle is the shorter stature of the Scottish cows so that they can fit in the barn, Carstensen said. There is also a difference in Scottish terminology used.

While the competition only lasted a day, the group of four had the chance to visit six different countries on their trip, including England, France and Germany, Carstensen said. The competition cost about $5,000 per person. The team of four was able to go for free because of donations.

“Our community was really supportive,” Brazil said. “We had a pasta feed as a fundraiser and also received donations from the dairy industry around California.”

The four became interested in dairy cattle judging because it was part of their environment growing up, she said.

“Petaluma has a pretty big dairy industry and my family is a fifth generation dairy industry in northern California as well as Sam (Cheda’s),” she said. “(Cheda) and I got into it because we’ve had siblings and grandparents compete. It’s kind of like a tradition.”

Carstensen and Brazil aren’t sure if they want to go into the dairy industry but both said that knowing about the cattle will be beneficial. Cheda said that dairy cattle judging will influence what he wants to do with his life and is looking forward to working in the field of agriculture.