How The Ohio State University’s Dairy Judging Team rose to the top
The Ohio State University’s Dairy Judging Team set its hopes high for a blue-ribbon victory at The World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, last September. The competition was stiff. Colleges from around the country sent their very best to compete, with each team hoping to snag the winning title.
Ohio State’s team—which is housed in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Department of Animal Sciences—had proven itself a force to be reckoned with, but no one knew if it would be able to capture the first-place prize.
Still, it had been 33 years since the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences had seen a win like this.
While the van trip might have been entertaining, once the team reached Madison, it was showtime. The members of the team were anxious.
“They had bottles of Tylenol in the rooms because they knew exactly how we would be feeling,” team member Sarah Lehner said.
The day started at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast, and ended at 4:30 p.m.
Team members had to judge one class of dairy cattle at a time. Each class represented a specific breed, with four heifers, calves, or milk cows in the class itself.
The students looked at each cow’s overall physical appearance. Did it have a good udder, a clean cut, a straight line, and functional feet and legs?
The most stressful part of this process was the reasoning portion of the competition.
During the reasoning section, competitors gave detailed descriptions as to why they placed a class the way they did. This required the individuals to hone in, focus, and stand by their selections.
“Judging 12 classes and then going to give six sets of reasons requires a lot of brain power and definitely calls for a long day,” team member Lauren Almasy explained.
While dairy judging is not your typical extracurricular activity, the team and coach Bonnie Ayars worked long, diligent hours getting ready for their game—their contest.
“It’s just like coaching any other sports team. We have a playing field; we have an arena. Ours is just made of sawdust, not turf,” said Ayars, who is also a program specialist in the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences.
While the competition results were full of suspense, the team, in the end, was victorious, beating The Pennsylvania State University’s team by a single point.
Finally, after the 33-year dry spell, the team brought home gold to the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences. With the victory, the team established themselves as the creme de la creme and rose to the top.
The team has four members: Almasy, a junior majoring in animal sciences; Lehner, a sophomore majoring in agribusiness and applied economics; Ian Lokai, a junior majoring in animal sciences; and Billy Smith, a senior majoring in animal sciences.
“On this team, all four were steeped in the dairy industry and had a real passion for it,” Ayars said.
Ayars herself is no stranger to the dairy industry. Coaching Ohio State’s Dairy Judging Team for the past 14 years, she has been a staple of its success. She and her husband, both dairy show judges, run their own dairy farm.
“It all came natural—my kids judged, I judged. There was no choice in the household, really” Ayars said with a laugh.
The team members’ crazy schedule and weekend trips have allowed them to form special bonds with one another. Explaining cattle isn’t all they talk about; they share life experiences with each other as well.
Taking a van to contests hours away has been a primary force of this bond that’s been created. We’ve eaten together, stayed in hotels together, laughed together, and even shared secrets in the van.
“Let’s just say what happens in the van, stays in the van,” Smith explained with a smile on his face.
The Ohio State University’s Dairy Judging Team proved to be victorious by the skin of their teeth, beating the Penn State team by one exhilarating point.
When it came down to who would seize first and second place, all the team members could do was wait. Thoughts of winning the expo swirled in their heads, while thoughts of coming in second crept in, too. The team members were clinging to each other while anxiously waiting to hear those magical words: “In first place, Ohio State!”
After the agonizing wait, they hollered, they hugged. Some cried.
While the team as well as Ayars attributes the endless hours of cattle-evaluation practice to their success, they also believe luck was on their side while standing on those green shavings.
“I always say, ‘Luck is what happens when skill runs out,’” Ayars said.
Before the team’s victory, the members struck a deal with Ayars—one she did not think she would have to come through on.
As the team discussed the possibility of winning, they also began talking about Switzerland, the home of the Brown Swiss cattle breed.
“Well, one thing led to another, and soon enough Bonnie was telling us that if we won the expo, she would take us to Switzerland,” Smith stated.
A deal is a deal, and on Nov. 26, the team will be heading to see those special Brown Swiss cows in Switzerland.
Watching the team talk about Ayars, it is clear to see that the team looks up to her and regards her as a mentor.
“Bonnie is very well respected by the industry and knows her cows. For her to coach a team to win, that says something,” Lokai said.
As for Ayars, she is confident that no matter where life might take these four individuals, they will have wild success.
But, that’s the thing about creme: It always rises to the top.