Zack Seekford and his teammates were up before the sun Nov. 3, heads swimming with information they’d memorized over the past few months about the dairy industry.
After a six-hour drive to Louisville the night before, complete with cramming for the Invitational 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl, the four local 4-Hers were worn out.
Their Saturday started at 7:30 a.m., heads spinning with agriculture-related terms, such as “grain harvesting,” “feeding nutrition” and “farming equipment.”
In the first of six rounds, which ultimately lasted seven hours, the team lost to a group from Georgia. But because the contest was in double-elimination style, the team had another chance.
The 33rd annual contest was held at the 39th annual North American International Livestock Exposition, the largest all-breed, purebred livestock expo in the world. It was among seven other youth judging contests hosted by NAILE this year.
Seekford had competed in the Virginia Dairy Quiz Bowl six times to earn a spot on the team. But this was his only experience in the national arena; and it will be his last. Once a competitor participates, they are not allowed to return.
The students won against teams from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland before finding themselves facing Georgia again.
“All of us were alert and awake,” said Seekford, of Pineville, a 16-year-old junior at Spotswood High School. “It was kind of like a redemption shot. … We pretty much crushed them.”
But their next and final round was against a Maine group, which dealt Virginia’s representatives their second and final blow.
In the end, the local team came in fourth place out of 19 teams, a placement Seekford considers satisfactory. His new goal is to train up-and-coming Rockingham County contestants in an effort to get more local youth excited about the dairy industry.
The county was heavily represented with Virginia’s team; three of the four members are from Rockingham: Mikayla Bailey, of Green Mount, a 17-year-old senior at Turner Ashby High School; Matthew Smith, of McGaheysville, a 16-year-old junior at East Rockingham High School, and Seekford. The fourth was Cole Leonard, a 16-year-old sophomore at Riverheads High School in Augusta County.
David Winston, extension dairy scientist, and John Welsh, coordinator of the Rockingham County extension office, coached the team.
The county’s three participants have been part of the dairy 4-H group, which meets at Cross Keys Ruritan Club, for years. Seekford serves as the club’s vice president. The students have also grown up on dairy farms or shown cattle in local contests.
Although competitors in the NAILE Dairy Quiz Bowl can only compete once, the local teens don’t have to write off all dairy judging contests. They can also compete for a spot in two state dairy judging teams: the “A” and “B” teams.
The “A” team heads to Madison, Wis., at the beginning of October, while the “B” team competes in Louisville during the NAILE.
Seekford is aiming to be a part of the “B” team next year and the “A” team the following year.
He wants to encourage more 4-Hers to get involved with the quiz bowl, but the low turnout at the state competition is indicative of a much larger problem, he says.
“I don’t think people realize how fast dairy farms are losing numbers [in Virginia], especially in the Southeast,” he said. “The dairy farms are rapidly decreasing.”
Far fewer 4-H students are involved in the dairy club now, compared to when he first joined, he said, but he’s going to spend the next few years trying to change that.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com