One of the exciting events put on by University of New Hampshire faculty and students interested in agriculture and animal science is the FFA Interscholastics Contest for high school FFA members to compete in. The most recent one took place on Oct. 13, during which 78 high school FFA students arrived on the UNH campus by 9:30 a.m.

The competitors present showed the coordinators and their advisors the knowledge they have gained about dairy cattle, from judging their body score to taking a written knowledge test.

One of the executive directors for the Granite State Association of FFA, Maria Vanderwoude, explained that when they attended their first show in 1976, it was already an established and recognized tradition. However, the competition has gained popularity since it was moved from a Saturday to a school day, making it easier for all (or most) of the students to attend, and therefore increasing the attendance rate.

These FFA students not only train for the competition at UNH but simultaneously compete throughout the semester. A lot of the schools are involved in competitions at the Deerfield Fair, state conventions, leadership training and much more. After talking to many of the schools present, it was discovered that they spend weeks in advance practicing for these competitions.

The competition portions included in this autumn’s FFA Interscholastics Contest are known as Career Development Events (CDEs). On this day, there were a variety of CDEs being provided for the students: dairy judging, forage judging, horticulture and forestry. Leading the dairy cattle portion of the event was UNH Professor Drew Conroy. It includes tasks such as completing a written dairy management exam, judging a dairy pedigree class, live dairy judging and oral reasoning for why they placed the group of cows in their live dairy judging strings from best to worst.

The contestants gathered in Cole Hall to take a dairy management exam that tested their knowledge on terminology, definitions and facts about the dairy industry. How many upper incisors do dairy cattle have? What is the estimated cull rate per year in the dairy industry? This exam is designed to challenge the students, not for them to prove they know everything there is to know about the dairy industry. There is always room for growth.

UNH FFA Interscholastics Contest held

FFA students from across New Hampshire proudly donned their blue jackets for the competition at UNH. Photo by Kelsi Devolve

After about 30 minutes, they moved on to pedigree judging, where they examined the same four cows, and ranked them from most desirable to least desirable based on the traits listed. Some traits provided for their decision making were udder composition, productive life and net merit.

Some UNH students from the Dairy Club and the Introduction to Dairy course helped out in the competition by preparing and showing the cows for the live judging contest. All the FFA students, their advisors and their teachers stood in a large circle outside the barn as three classes of four cows were displayed, one group at a time, for scoring and ranking. The three classes were Holstein yearling heifers, Holstein two-year-old heifers and Holstein four-year-old heifers.

The group of four walked around in an inner circle and stood in various lines for the students to see every angle of their body. The students had 12 minutes to rank the cows in that group from the most ideal (#1) to the least ideal (#4), based on their physical traits alone. The official judge, Danielle DeBlois, a UNH student, then announced her official rankings, one through four, and gave her reasonings as to why, such as judging the cleanliness in bone and hardness on top.

After the last class, some of the FFA students used 20 minutes to prepare and present their own reasons for their class ranking. All individual scores were added up at the completion of the competition, but considering all of the schools that participated had different class sizes, the top four scores from each team were added up to make the teams’ official score.

The school with the highest score not only wins a trophy and a banner, but has the opportunity to compete at the national level. The months of prep work come in handy at the end.

by Kelsi Devolve