PURDUE'S DAIRY TEAM REBUILDS AFTER COACH'S PASSING
During her freshman year at Purdue, Miriam Cook (Applied Agricultural Economics; Pewamo, MI) qualified for the National FFA Dairy Judging contest. Miriam wasn't a stranger to competition, having competed in Dairy Judging contests across the country through 4-H and FFA, but now, away from those organizations, she didn't have a way to prepare. That led her to seek out Steve Hendress, Purdue's dairy judging coach at the time.
That fall, Steve allowed Miriam to tag along with his team to practice across Indiana. The two quickly bonded and she found herself planning for the day when she would get to judge on his team. However, those days were cut short.
Steve, a cancer survivor, learned that his cancer had once again returned. Steve would quickly retire from Purdue before passing away in the fall of 2021.
Without a coach, the judging team was left in limbo and Miriam became concerned that Steve's legacy would be lost.
“My fear was that all Steve had done for the program would never happen again and we would lose his legacy," said Miriam. "So, in the spring of 2022 I began a pursuit to bring back the team in Steve’s honor.”
With support from the Animal Sciences department, Miriam secured a coach in Brian Engleking. The team had pins made and wore them during each contest to remember Steve and keep him close to their hearts.
Just two weeks before the Indiana State Fair, the dairy judging team began practicing for the upcoming season. Using the team van, they traveled to several farms across Indiana to prepare. They also traveled to Maryland, partnering with Michigan State's dairy judging team for an intense practice session before the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, PA.
During the contest season, the team took many van rides including trips to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and even Texas. At each contest they judged around 10 classes of cows and heifers of various dairy breeds. Then they would give 5 to 6 sets of reasons in those classes to official judges who would score each set out of 50 points. This typically lasted the entire day as there were 15 or more teams of 4 people at most of these contests.
When asked about the challenges and benefits of dairy judging, Miriam described that there were quite a few.
"Dairy judging forces youth to learn public speaking skills and gain confidence in their decision-making skills. It forces you to be strong in your viewpoints and speak about why that is so. While it helps us during the contest, those skills are beneficial far beyond that.”
Miriam also noted that you get the opportunity meet with potential future employers at contests and get exposure to many farm management styles while visiting farms to practice, a benefit to both the students and the host farmers.
In late fall, the team took on its biggest challenge traveling to the World Dairy Expo, the a largest dairy-focused trade show in the world. Despite not having a lot of experience, the team impressed, placing 3rd in the competition. The best performance by Purdue in over 60 years! Miriam said she is honored to have been a part of the team and grateful for all those who have made it happen.
“This team became something far beyond what I had dreamed. My teammates became my best friends and my coach, a great life mentor. I never would have imagined the impact we made in Indiana and far beyond. It is those memories that help drive us, have made us reach for the highest honor and push to do well. We are a team not only driven by the desire to do well for ourselves, but to do well for all those that believe in us.”