Being involved in 4-H offers life-changing experiences and provides young people with numerous opportunities to engage in hands-on activities to build valuable lifelong skills. For three siblings from one Huron County family, the long hours spent preparing 4-H dairy animal projects and practicing for dairy judging contests paid off in a major way: international travel.
Eric Sneller, Michigan State University (MSU) animal science senior and the son of Sebewaing dairy farmers Darwin and Kathy Sneller, spent June 22 to July 5 in Europe. He was one of nine Michigan youth who, accompanied by MSU Extension dairy youth specialist Joe Domecq, traveled to Europe where they visited England, Scotland, France, Germany and Luxembourg.
The group that traveled to Europe this summer was made up of members of the 2009 and 2010 Michigan 4-H dairy judging teams that each placed second at the annual World Dairy Expo dairy judging contest. The second place finish earned the teams an invitation to travel to Europe, an honor extended only to the top three placing teams at the contest held annually in Madison, Wis. A win here – or even a top ten placing – is the equivalent of a “gold medal” accomplishment in dairy industry circles and can serve as added leverage on resumes come graduation time.
Eric’s older brother, Matt, traveled to Europe in 2006 representing the Michigan 4-H dairy judging team that placed second at World Dairy Expo in 2004. Matt, who graduated from MSU in 2007, is currently employed as the Western U.S. Cornerstone supervisor for ABS Global, Inc. in Visalia, Calif. The brothers’ older sister, Emily, graduated from MSU in 2005 and is currently employed as a field crops educator with MSU Extension. She also earned an invitation to travel to Europe with the MSU dairy judging program, but had to decline when the tour dates overlapped with beginning her graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. She did, however, have a chance to experience Europe in high school as a member of the Lion’s Club Band.
“My sister and brother were two of the best dairy judges I know, and following in their footsteps always made me want to experience all that they have. They both talked highly of their time dairy judging and time spent in Europe and that just pushed me more to obtain that goal,” Eric said.
“I think it just goes to show how much our family enjoys our experiences with judging and how much we strive to do our best,” he added, when asked to share what it meant to be the third member from his family to qualify for the trip to Europe. “I suspect we’re one of the few families who can say that we have all been asked to experience the judging trip to Europe, and it makes me proud and grateful to those who helped us achieve it.”
One highlight for Sneller took place in Scotland when the students competed in the Royal Highland Show and Judging Contest. He and his Clinton County counterpart and MSU advertising senior KT Arndt competed on a team that placed third. During the group’s stay in Luxembourg, each of the young dairy judges were assigned to stay with a farm family for three days. The trip itinerary also included traveling to London and Paris and visiting numerous historical sites, museums and attractions.
Besides the amazing history lesson, Sneller said the most significant aspects of the trip to Europe were all the great friends he made and others he met and got to know.
“These people are my future co-workers and association counterparts, and I’ll appreciate that I already know them,” he added.
Visiting different farms and agriculture settings in all of the countries also provided participants with a unique opportunity to learn about issues affecting the dairy industry on an international level, be exposed to European dairy practices and meet a lot of wonderful people. Eric’s brother Matt recounted that traveling to Europe broadened his appreciation for other countries and cultures.
“I started to see the differences in other countries’ dairy systems and the decisions they must make to remain profitable,” he shared. “For example, I learned that weather has a big influence on which crops are grown and how regulations affect vaccination protocols or which marketing options are available to producers.”
“It has given me a greater appreciation for the differences in cattle and how other people view the ‘perfect’ cow,” Eric concurred.
Matt reflected that being a member of 4-H is more than simply competing to win first place.
“The mentors and industry people involved truly want the youth to grow their skills over multiple years and develop into the next generation of leaders and not just the next contest leader,” he said.
Eric credits and thanks his parents and family for pushing him to get involved in 4-H and start dairy judging at an early age.
“Without dairy judging, I wouldn’t have had the experiences, great friends and network that I have today,” he said.
As for Eric, who will be competing nationally this fall as a member of the MSU collegiate dairy cattle judging team alongside Arndt, Genesee County 4-H member Lauren Bush and MSU animal science junior who also traveled to Europe, and Tera Koebel, MSU agribusiness junior from Berrien County, the trip provided a backdrop to strengthen the bond between teammates, earning a second trip to Europe this fall by placing among the top three continues to be a goal.
“There are parts of Europe I would really enjoy seeing again and, most of all, I would like to revisit my host family in Luxembourg,” Eric said. “Having the chance to experience the trip again and being able to achieve something that my brother and sister haven’t for once would be like icing on the cake.”