Jackson County teens have valuable experience at Royal Highland ShowLAKEFIELD — Take four Jackson County teens, send them off to tour five countries over a span of 14 days, and you get a general livestock judging team brimming with newfound knowledge about European livestock production.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
LAKEFIELD — Take four Jackson County teens, send them off to tour five countries over a span of 14 days, and you get a general livestock judging team brimming with newfound knowledge about European livestock production.
Evan Koep, Kate Anderson, Tanner Post and Zach Post returned to southwest Minnesota early Wednesday morning after a two-week trip that included competing in beef and sheep judging contests June 25 at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Koep and Anderson, who teamed up to judge sheep, garnered third place among American judging teams in the contest.
The Post brothers judged the beef cattle portion of the competition, but did not place among the top three. The four teens had earned the opportunity to compete in the Royal Highland Show after earning third place last October at the National FFA Convention’s general livestock judging contest.
On Wednesday, all four were quick to point out the differences between European and American livestock production.
“For the U.S. people, everyone went in there not knowing what to expect,” said Koep. “We were just trying to grasp what Scotland looks for — their whole priority … is just muscle. That’s what they’re trying to breed for.”
The primary sheep breed in Scotland is the Texel, which Koep said is a heavily muscled, compact breed built like a bulldog with a broad head, wide muzzle and broad-boned body.
Though he hadn’t heard of the Texel before, Koep was hoping the Suffolk breed — raised in both Europe and America — would be easier to judge. That, however, wasn’t the case.
“Here, Suffolks are very tall, long and finer-boned, but there, they’re short, compact and really heavy-boned,” he said.
Getting beyond the learning curve was a challenge, but the Jackson County teens had a full day prior to their judging contest to work with and learn from students in the Young Farmers Organization (similar to the FFA program in the U.S.) who have competed in the Royal Highland Show in the past.
“For me, the beef judging was really different from what we are used to in the U.S.,” said Tanner Post. “They look for different things. They like (cattle) leaner, we like them fat.”
“They want a really wide muzzle (on their livestock) so they can take in more forage,” added Zach Post.
Livestock in Scotland is primarily grass-fed.
Anderson said her favorite part of the trip was the judging competition. She and Koep judged four sheep classes and, in comparing notes afterward, discovered they had one pair switched in two classes and completely different orders in the other two. Since no results were provided other than the team placement, she still wonders which one of them did best in the classes.
“It was kind of like the size of the Spencer (Clay County) fair,” she said of the Royal Highland Show. “It’s just kind of neat seeing all the different animals. There were a lot of different sheep that I’d never seen breeds of before.”
For Zach and Tanner Post, who grew up raising beef cattle near Lakefield, spending a few days with a host family on their dairy farm in rural Antwerp, Belgium, was “the most fun thing,” said Zach.
“My favorite part — by far — was staying with our host family,” he added. “They ran an approximately 200-cow dairy operation, which is large for Belgium.”
The Post brothers helped with milking 185 cows, morning and night, in the Blockx family’s one-year-old, state-of-the-art facility that features a 40-cow carousel parlor.
“It was a blast,” Zach said of milking, which only took one hour twice per day. After chores, the host family took their guests to other farms in the area. The Posts visited a 450-cow Belgian Blue beef cattle operation, a 100,000 head chicken farm and a 600-head Holstein-Belgian Blue cross veal calf operation.
Anderson, who stayed with a host family just a couple miles down the road from where the Posts were, also had an opportunity to help milk cows, do the daily chores and see similar livestock operations.
All were surprised by the way farmers there raise their Belgian Blue cattle. Because of breeding efforts for highly muscled cattle, the cows are unable to calve naturally. As a result, all cows undergo Caesarean sections. Once they have a third Caesarean, the cows are culled.
Koep, who stayed on a dairy farm near Brugge, also helped milk cows and do chores with the family.
“I stayed with three other Wyoming boys (on the host farm),” Koep said, adding that most farms in the area where he stayed had 50 to 60-cow dairies.
All four of the teens, along with their coaches, Jim Nesseth and Jeff Voss, also toured a vegetable cooperative, wine farm and research farm.
“The kids were exposed to all kinds of agriculture and different concepts,” said Voss, an ag instructor and FFA advisor at Jackson County Central. “I really was very happy (with the trip). I really enjoyed all the agricultural stops we made.”
During their first day in Europe, Voss said the contingent toured a privately owned research farm where the Europeans are working on a new beef breed that focuses on maternal capabilities. Another research project is examining the potential impact pelleted human sewage — used as fertilizer in pastures — may be having on sheep.
“They noticed the males were less aggressive in mating and they’re wondering if there is a correlation,” said Voss. “They’re now doing soil tests, harvesting sheep and checking to see if there is some hormone causing that change.”
A great opportunity
The Jackson County representatives spent time in Scotland, Belgium, Germany, France and England during the course of the two-week trip. While agricultural experiences were certainly the focus, they had opportunities to see other highlights as well.
“All four of us climbed the Eiffel Tower,” said Anderson, adding that from the top they viewed a beautiful sunset.
“It was really neat seeing all of the old buildings over there. Everything was brick and stone, something you don’t see over here,” she said.
Anderson said the group spent about a day and a half in London, and a few hours in Paris.
While in Scotland, Tanner Post said the group viewed both a castle and a palace.
“It was a great experience — a really fun trip,” added Zach Post. “We made a lot of friends from both the U.S. and with our host family in Belgium.”
Koep said all four of the teens talked on the way home about how educational the experience was.
“It really opened up all of our eyes,” he said.
Voss was pleased with how the team did in the judging competition, and he — along with all four teens — thanked area businesses and residents for helping to make the trip possible.
“We were happy to be over there and competing,” Voss said. “We want to thank everybody who sponsored us.”
Voss said the teens kept a diary of their daily experiences on the journey, and portions of those will be used to create a summary of the trip for sponsors. They also plan to do some presentations about their experience.