By Emily Beal, writer for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
This time of year, Ohio State University fans around the world are getting ready to watch a Buckeye team make a run for a National Championship. Many, though, many not realize that there are already some 2019 champion Buckeyes that compete in a different type of venue. The Ohio State Dairy Judging Team proved it was the cream of the crop, placing first at the National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. this fall. The last time Ohio State won the contest was in 1986.
The Dairy Judging Team placed first among 18 schools in the National Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Contest on Sept. 30. Coached by Bonnie Ayars, The Ohio State University team placed seventh for reasons with a score of 788. The team consists of fourth-place overall individual Billy Smith and ninth-place overall individual Lauren Almasy along with Sarah Lehner and Ian Lokai. Almasy is a junior majoring in animal sciences and Lehner is a sophomore majoring in agribusiness and applied economics. Lokai is a junior majoring in animal sciences and Smith is a senior majoring in animal sciences.
The team carried 10 pennies and a buckeye in their pockets in honor of former Dairy Judging Team Coach Pete Spike who owned a dairy farm named Ten Penny Holsteins.
Ohio State’s team had already proven itself a force to be reckoned with, but no one knew if it would be able to capture the first-place prize. While the van trip to the event might have been entertaining, once the team reached Madison, it was show time. The members of the team were anxious. The day started at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast, and ended at 4:30 p.m.
“They had bottles of Tylenol in the rooms because they knew exactly how we would be feeling,” Lehner said.
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,” Almasy said.
The reasoning process made the team members’ hearts beat a little faster. It filled their bodies with pent-up nerves and their brains with racing thoughts. After the reasoning portion of the contest, the teammates could all heave sighs of relief.
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 exhilarating point. Finally, after the 33-year dry spell, the team brought home gold to the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Department of Animal Sciences.
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 dairy judging is not a typical extracurricular activity, the team and coach Bonnie Ayars worked long, diligent hours with the team getting ready for the 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. “On this team, all four were steeped in the dairy industry and had a real passion for it.”
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,”
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.
“I can sincerely say my teammates are some of my best friends,” Almasy said.
Taking a van to contests hours away has been a primary force of this bond that’s been created. The teammates have eaten together, stayed in hotels together, laughed together, and shared some 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.
While the team 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 honor. 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 said.
A deal is a deal, and on Nov. 26, the team left 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. That’s the thing about cream — it always rises to the top.