quick guide to

Dairy Cattle Judging


Where to start

Form and function

What to look for

How judging works

Young Judging speech


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Young judging provides young people with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills in visually assessing livestock and public speaking through comparing animals against each other. These skills not only develop a better understanding of dairy cattle, they also enable young people to make a valuable contribution to the industry.

Stakeholders in the dairy industry invest time and money into continually improving their stock. The dairy industry is Australia’s fourth largest rural industry and employs more than 46,000 people on farms and in dairy companies. The industry’s main products are milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt. The best way to ensure the industry continues to grow, improve and provide high quality products is to evaluate – or judge – the characteristics of their animals. It’s important to be able to identify and understand why certain traits have significant commercial value. Not only animals featuring these qualities will have higher value at sale and in production, but breeders will want to pass these desirable traits onto the next generation to improve the overall herd.

Being able to understand and identify these characteristics and orally present to an audience are skills that can be learnt and take practice. Importantly, this process develops competitors’ confidence, decision making and attention to detail, which are skills that will also translate into future careers.

While many young people become involved in young judging and other agricultural show competitions through their school, tertiary education institution or from a farming background, there are other ways to become involved. By approaching a local show society, members can provide guidance and support to anyone interested in participating. Many shows now hold education days and there are opportunities to connect with farms, studs, saleyards and other local shows to learn more.

Generally, young judges compete at a local show first. Winners then go on to compete at their royal show and from there one competitor will be selected to represent each state or territory at the National Dairy Cattle Judging Championship. Young judging is for entrants aged 15 and under 25 years old on May 1 in the year of the competition.

This is intended to be a general guide and there may be some variations in rules and expectations between shows. Individual shows will provide further advice and clarification.

Further reading

To find out more about local shows near your visit https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/shows/

Dairy Australia provides an industry overview and education resources for students, teachers and people new to the industry:  www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading   

The National Dairy Cattle Championship rules and regulations can be found here: https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/member-resources/national-competitions-guidelines/

Where to start

There are many breeds of dairy cattle in Australia, but the most common are Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey and Aussie Red.

It is important to learn about the different breeds of livestock as their characteristics can vary significantly between breeds. For example, Holstein are the most popular breed in Australia and are recognised by their distinctive black and white colouring, large frames and producing great volumes of milk. This compares to Jersey cattle which are smaller, caramel coloured and their milk is creamy, making it ideal for butter, while the Aussie Red is a medium-sized, red and white coloured animal that produces high protein milk.

TOP TIP: Don’t get stuck on the detail of the different breeds. Cattle in each class should be the same breed and they should be judged against what makes a good dairy cow rather than specific breed characteristics.

Further reading

An overview of dairy cattle breeds in Australia can be found here: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

Form and function

When judging it is important to consider the “form” and “function” of the animal as this determines what it has been grown for. In the case of dairy cattle, the industry is dominated by cows (adult females) as they produce milk. However, heifers are the next largest group  – they are young females who are yet to calve or have had one calf. While bulls don’t form part of the competition, it is important to know that they are the males and are kept for breeding and young male calves are sold for veal or are raised into breeding bulls.

Their function will influence their form and characteristics. The reason we focus on these through judging is to identify their best qualities as cattle producers want to pass on these superior traits to the next generation to continually improve their herd. Remember, a good structure enables an animal to walk, feed, breed and produce milk to its optimal ability.

TOP TIP: Good practice is to quickly let the handler of the animal know you are going to touch or assess their animal.

What to look for

You will need to get to know the different parts of the animal and be able to name these correctly, as these will be the judging points. As a cow’s main function is milk production, it is important to look for a well-structured udder, if she is fertile and can walk and feed well. Important characteristics are a well-balanced udder with large, prominent milk veins, four even teats that are wide apart and squarely placed, prominent and wide hips, well sprung and widely spaced ribs, and a fine, long face with a broad muzzle.

Heifers will be similar to cows, except their udder won’t be as developed.

TOP TIP: Start from the feet and work your way up.

Further reading

For a comprehensive visual guide to all the judging points and what an ideal animal looks like: https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/member-resources/national-competitions-guidelines/

For an example of a dairy cow being judged watch this video: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading


How judging works

The animals are divided into up to three classes comprising four cows or four heifers of the same breed and will be judged by competitors one at a time. Animals in each class will be labelled with a number, their age, weight and measurements.

Visual judging will take place first, where the animals will be paraded and lined up in front of the competitors for eight minutes. During this time, competitors will complete a visual judging card. These cards are simple, with competitors ranking the animals in order from first to fourth place.

Before oral judging starts, each competitor will ask the Ring Steward to line up the cattle in the competitor’s placing order: first, second, third and fourth. Competitors are allowed one minute to parade the animals for one circuit of the ring and place them in order from first to fourth place.

Competitors who score high enough in the visual section will go on to compete in the oral section where they choose one class for their presentation.

Competitors speak for two minutes to explain their reasoning behind how they’ve placed the animals. It’s important to stick to the allocated time – for every 10 seconds a competitor goes over their time, they will be penalised one point.

Young Judging speech

Competitors in the oral section are scored on their accuracy of observation, their ability to compare animals, speaking skills and their own presentation.

Have a start, middle and end: begin with an introduction (for example, acknowledging those involved and provide a short overview of characteristics an ideal animal would have in that class), then go into the comparisons of pairs, and finish with a conclusion (thank people for listening). The speech only goes for two minutes, so keep to the point.

The main goal is to explain to the judge why you have placed the animals in the order you have chosen by comparing the animals in pairs – first place with second, second against third, and finally third against fourth. Rather than describing each animal individually, competitors draw comparisons against the attributes of each pair. For example, “In the top pair, I placed animal numbered [four] ahead of [eg one] because … [highlight the strengths then weaknesses, if any are present].” Remember to prioritise the most important reasons first and pick only two or three differences.

Judging is subjective, while there are characteristics about an animal to look for, what the judges will be paying close attention to is how clearly competitors express their decision and how they validate it.

It’s not all about the animals – a competitor’s appearance is also important and judges can mark down for poor presentation. Competitors must wear closed in shoes and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Long hair must be tied back, and only minimal jewellery is allowed. Male competitors must wear a tie and long pants. Female competitors may consider wearing a tie or neck scarf or necklace. Chewing gum and shorts are definitely not permitted.


  • Speak clearly and concisely – show you believe in what you are saying and pack a punch with your words. 
  • Deliver your speech to the championship judge – remember eye contact.
  • Don’t call the final animal “last”, as this can be insulting to the owner. Instead refer to it being fourth placed.
  • Get to know the terminology and don’t be afraid to implement it – the judges will be looking out for it.
  • Choose one end of the animal to begin speaking on and move to the other end, from front to rear or vice versa. This will help organise your presentation and make it easier for people to follow what you are saying.
  • Be as descriptive and explanatory as possible. For example, use gender terms rather than “it” and go beyond saying one characteristic is “better” when comparing a pair by highlighting why the characteristic is superior.

Further reading

For a comprehensive list of cattle terminology check out https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

This educational content has been developed as part of the Project: Education of Sustainable Agri-Food Production Program. This project is jointly funded through Agricultural Shows Australia and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program

promoting the role and significance of Australian Agricultural Shows to the wider community

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