Jackson Co. team bound for Scotland
LAKEFIELD -- Recent Jackson County Central High School graduate Kate Anderson has never been on a plane before, and she's never been to a foreign country.
As of tomorrow, she will experience both of those firsts in what can only be termed a trip of a lifetime for a group of four Jackson County teens. Together, they will compete in this Saturday's Royal Highland Show and general livestock judging contest in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Anderson, along with Evan Koep and brothers Tanner and Zach Post, earned the right to compete in the premiere livestock show after earning third place in the National FFA Convention's general livestock judging contest last October. The top three FFA teams in the nation, along with the top three 4-H general livestock teams nationwide, are offered the opportunity to compete. National dairy team winners in both 4-H and FFA are also invited.
An estimated six teams from the United States will travel to Scotland this week for the contest -- including three from Minnesota.
The other two Minnesota teams, from Owatonna and Olmsted County, will compete in the dairy contest. More than 150,000 people from around the world are anticipated at the show.
After the contest, the groups will take part in an International Livestock Judging Tour, visiting England, France, Belgium and Germany.
Their itinerary boasts stops at the Scottish Museum of Country Life, Warwick Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, but the two things the Jackson County teens are most looking forward to are the judging competition in Edinburgh and staying with host families near Roeselare, Belgium.
"It's an ag-based trip, that's what I like," said Koep, adding that he wants to see how production agriculture operates in Europe.
"Between the sight-seeing and being able to stay with the farm host families -- that's going to be a blast," Koep said.
Zach Post said he is anxious to hear what the Europeans think of their livestock quality versus the quality of livestock produced in the U.S.
The differences in livestock production between the U.S. and western European countries will create the greatest challenges for the judging teams, according to coach Jim Nesseth.
"There's a lot of similarities in the breeds -- a lot of our breeds originated from England," said Nesseth. The difference will be in the production style.
Still, the teens will see breeds they've never seen before. In the beef cattle judging it will be the Blonde d'Aquataine; while in sheep, they will see three relatively unknown breeds -- Texels, Charollais and Blue-faced Leicester.
"My guess is that they're going to really be trying to select based on production," he added.
For instance, the sheep contest may have judges looking more for the deeper-bodied, wider-based, heavier-muscled sheep -- not necessarily what judges look for in American classes.
"It will be tough for us to beat out those European teams," Nesseth said. "We're going to do our best and try to adapt. The bottom line is we're going to have fun and be serious about the contest -- whatever happens happens."
The team will have an opportunity to do several practice rounds with the Young Farmers members (the equivalent to the FFA program in the United States). The Post brothers will judge the beef classes, while Koep and Anderson will judge the sheep classes. Determining who would judge which category was rather easy -- the Posts raise and show beef cattle, while Koep and Anderson both raise and show sheep.
In addition to ranking animal classes, each two-person team will have to present two sets of oral reasons, stating how and why they placed a class of animals the way they did. During the entire contest, the participants get to wear white frocks -- the traditional attire of a livestock show person in Europe.
Working to the top
Koep, Anderson and the Posts have been meshing together as a judging team since the summer of 2009, when Anderson joined the group of guys. Koep and Zach Post have competed together since the fifth grade, first in 4-H and, when they reached their freshman year in high school, as members of the JCC FFA team. Zach's younger brother Tanner joined the FFA judging team two years later.
"Once we got in FFA, we thought we'd find success," said Zach. He and Koep were part of a four-person team that earned fifth place at the Minnesota FFA Convention their freshman year, third place their sophomore year and first place their junior year (in the spring of 2010) with Anderson and Tanner Post as teammates.
Prior to their first-place finish in the state FFA contest, the group had earned second place at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo.
It wasn't until after they'd place third in the National FFA contest last October in Indianapolis that the group learned the trip to Scotland was even in the offering.
"They announced the Top 3 and we were given packets," said Koep. Inside were details about the trip to the Royal Highland Show.
Since then, the group has been practicing twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday morning, to prepare for the contest. Coaches of the team include Nesseth, JCC ag instructor Jeff Voss, Sheldon Johnson and Keith Schoenfeld. Nesseth and Voss will travel with the team to Scotland, in addition to Tam Erickson and Kathy Voss.
Nesseth said JCC's general livestock judging team had the opportunity to make the trip in 1995, but decided against it because they didn't have the resources. Ever since, Nesseth said he's regretted the decision to bow out of the contest, so when the opportunity arose this time, they decided to start fundraising.
In all, the group had to raise about $18,000 for the trip -- most of the money coming from the generosity of Jackson residents and businesses. Among their most successful fundraisers was an Internet auction, in which businesses donated items like bags of seed and other merchandise, and the public logged in to place bids. Numerous other fundraisers were also conducted over the past eight months.
"We'd just like to thank everyone who supported us, and the coaches for teaching us everything we know and getting us this far," said Koep.
Zach Post also offered thanks to their parents for "hauling us in for practices" and contributing toward the trip.
The team will return home to Jackson County on July 5.