UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Warren County’s Ellie Curtis was among a team of four Pennsylvania 4-H members who recently competed in dairy judging contests in Scotland and Ireland, placing first at the Clonmel Agricultural Show in Ireland.
Team members included Sara Haag, of Berks County; Madelynn Hoffman, of Lancaster County; Morgan Smoker, of Mifflin County; and Curtis.
The team qualified to represent the United States at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland, after winning the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest at World Dairy Expo, held last October in Madison, Wisconsin. The team was selected from the top-ranking contestants at the Pennsylvania 4-H Dairy Judging Contest in June 2022.
“I did not realize that I would meet three girls who not only would become my friends but practically siblings over this trip,” said Hoffman. “To win at Expo and then have the opportunity to judge on an international level is a spectacular experience.”
Chad Dechow, associate professor of dairy cattle genetics at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, served as the team’s coach.
“I learned that judging in foreign countries is a lot different,” Curtis said. Unlike the 15-minute judging timeframe in the U.S., the Scottish competition allowed just five minutes.
“This experience taught me that working together and gathering information from a variety of people to combine with my own knowledge is an important skill,” Curtis said.
The team was split into pairs for the Highland Show. Curtis and Hoffman placed fourth, while Smoker and Haag placed eighth.
“I’m so proud of how this team works together,” said Brittany Snyder, a chaperone for the trip. “They support and encourage each other every step of the way.”
She recalled observing the team prepare for the Highland Show.
“They asked for reminders and tips from those skilled in providing reasons,” she said. “They discussed cow placement and actively listened and collaborated. I couldn’t have been more proud to witness such poise and class from these ladies.”
The team placed first at the Clonmel Agricultural Show.
“The Ireland show was really exciting,” Hoffman said. “We were extremely privileged to be able to judge together as a team, which is something we’ve never been able to do in the U.S.”
Dechow explained that this was the first time the team worked together to place classes. In U.S. contests, participants judge individually and independently place a class, whereas in this contest, they collaborated to determine a composite placing among the four team members.
Hoffman said they worked well together by advocating for the cows they selected and reaching compromises.
“Those compromises led to us winning the Ireland show as a team,” she said. “That bonded us together and was a great way to end our international judging experience.”
Smoker said her favorite part of the trip was judging the cows at the two shows.
“The contests were so fun,” she said. “But I liked the fairs most of all. The Royal Highland Show was like a state fair here in the States, and the Clonmel Show reminded me of a county fair.”
Another highlight for Smoker was making new friends. The team traveled with a group of 120 individuals from across the U.S. They were part of a dairy bus containing 53 passengers, including 4-H and FFA members. Two other buses contained the livestock participants.
Danielle Smoker, one of the chaperones, noted that the well-organized trip took them through numerous towns across Scotland and Ireland.
“Besides all the sites we saw, our team had so much fun making new friends from all over the world,” she said. “It was a great experience for them to network with the livestock kids too. With social media, they will stay connected forever.”
Hoffman formed friendships with international participants, including one from Ireland.
Curtis also made new connections.
“I enjoyed making new friends I have a lot in common with, that I hope to stay in touch with forever and see later down the road as I continue my journey in the dairy industry,” she said.
The trip included visits to several dairy farms.
“It’s fascinating how differently they farm compared to us in the States,” Smoker said. “The biggest difference was the climate. It rains there a lot more than here, so their cows consume more of a hay-based diet.”
“I enjoyed the quality of cattle that were there,” Hoffman said. “We visited a grazing management farm, where the farmer demonstrated grass measurement and rotational grazing methods. I loved learning from him. He was well-educated and could tell us all about agricultural policies and the current state of the Ireland ag industry.”
They also visited the Blarney Castle and Stone, Culzean Castle, St. Andrews Golf Course, and Stirling Castle. They took a ferry from Scotland to Ireland, explored Wembley Park and London, and discovered a historic church with ties to Pennsylvania.
“The trip was a wonderful way of celebrating their accomplishments back in Madison,” Snyder said. “Half the team had never traveled abroad or even flown before. These are life experiences they will never forget. I’m so proud of these girls for stepping so far out of their comfort zones, taking a leap of faith together and celebrating with this trip.”
Danielle Smoker remarked on the memories and lifelong friendships that were formed.
“The trip was amazing, and the opportunities that 4-H offers outside of our local counties is beyond words,” she said. “I hope more kids get involved in 4-H, find their passion in something and watch it take them places like it has for these girls.”
Hoffman said the experience jumpstarted her judging career.
“The trip was fabulous and irreplaceable,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”