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Held annually in Belgium, the Young Breeders School challenges youth from across Europe and other continents to learn advanced skills with dairy cattle. The contest, which began in 1999, originally hosted young people from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. Today, youth come from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria and the United Kingdom. In addition, Canada and Australia send highly competitive teams. Youth who are passionate about dairy gather for five days in late summer to learn about selection, nutrition, fitting and showmanship.
The sessions are taught in four languages, including French, German, English and Dutch, by experienced leaders with international renown. Small groups of five to six youth are run through their paces while building international relationships.
In 2007, 150 youth participated from around the globe, but the organizers wanted to focus on quality learning, not quantity, and have capped the event at 120 each year since. The event begins with three days of intense training in not only show preparation but also marketing, professional photography and much more. This is followed by two days of competition in which young people put their education to the test. Life skills such as being open to learning new ideas and techniques are introduced during this time.
Team spirit and participation is also evaluated throughout the week, building on responsibility and dedication skills.
Unique to the competition is the opportunity for the participants to live with host families throughout the Walloon region. This practice has built lasting friendships and relationships that have remained for years. Breeders from the Walloon area also supply animals for those who can’t bring their own. Animals are matched to youth based on size and age to guarantee the best young breeder to heifer duo.
Holstein Quebec sends an official judge to oversee the competition. As with all Canadian judges, this person is highly trained and well-versed in the skills needed to succeed in a show ring.
In 2023, Canada will send six highly qualified youth to compete in this extraordinary experience. Emma Finch, Kolton Crack, Grace Hughes, Félix Lemire, Sarah Dean and Ethan Nienhuis will represent Canada in September.
Representing the Maritimes will be 22-year-old Grace Hughes from Bonshaw, Prince Edward Island. Grace earned her position on the team by exhibiting and being named the Top Dairy Competitor at the EastGen Atlantic 4-H Showcase in 2022. As a longtime 4-H member from a first-generation farm, Grace has been a keen competitor in the dairy project since 2015 when she traveled to a few more shows than usual and began to make strong connections in the dairy industry. She has shown at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair TD Canadian 4-H Dairy Classic and at the World Dairy Expo.
Since the team will be using cattle from the area around the competition, instead of their own animals, her preparation plan is to lead as many different animals as possible this summer so that she can learn to bond with whatever heifer she is given once she arrives at YBS.
A past winner of the Andrea Crowe Inspiration Award, Grace says she hopes to continue to inspire youth as she learns from her experience in Belgium and brings home that newfound knowledge to other Atlantic area youth.
Representing western Canada will be Ethan Nienhuis, 19, who was selected after the week of competition at last summer’s Western Canadian Classic. The senior competitor with the highest point total for competitions is invited to attend YBS. After scoring second in both showmanship and fitting, third in the dairy science quiz and being named the top senior judge after placing third in both judging and reasons, Ethan was the top overall point-getter at the WCC, earning him an invitation to YBS. Ethan jumped at the chance, as he believes it will be a great opportunity to meet new people and to see how show technique is different in Europe.
Ethan has been showing since he was 9 and has exhibited at the Alberta Dairy Congress, Westerner Dairy Classic, BC Spring Show, World Dairy Expo and the Royal.
Ethan’s family purchased their farm in Warman, Saskatchewan, in 2017 and their prefix, Nienhuis, has been on some high-scoring 2-year-olds recently. This is attributed to Ethan’s mating selections, as he does all of the matings on the farm. A few years ago, a partnership animal that they sold was Reserve Junior Champion at the Royal. Like his teammates, he anticipates that handling numerous animals this summer will help him achieve a good understanding of how to build a team with his chosen heifer in Belgium.
Twenty-one-year-old Félix Lemire will be one of two young men representing Quebec at YBS. Félix views the trip as an opportunity to travel and learn alongside other top-level youth in this unique event. As a four-year participant in the TD Canadian 4-H Dairy Classic, Félix has had many successes in the show ring including exhibiting home-bred Micheret Juicy Applecrisp-Red who won the 2021 Supreme Dairy Show in both the Black and White and Red and White shows. As a past participant in Autumn Opportunity and many other shows, Félix is well prepared for this highly competitive competition.
Félix will be traveling quite a bit this summer as he helps with numerous show strings beyond his own. He works as a fitter and will be participating in as many showmanship classes as possible to gain skills and to learn all that he can before he goes to the competition.
He is looking forward to meeting young people from around the world who share his passion and knowledge of the dairy industry. He states, “This trip is going to increase my knowledge and help me learn more techniques that I will be able to use in the future.”
A native of Saint-Zépririn, he is a graduate of ITA in farm management and serves as a leader in AJRQ. Félix, his parents, Martial Lemire and Valérie Gagnon, brothers and sisters, farm at Micheret Farm, well known for their quality Holsteins.
Emma Finch is not from a dairy farm but joined the show community through her friendships. When she was 13, she learned that if a person wins overall or reserve overall competitor at the EastGen Challenge, they are asked to apply for the YBS trip, and she set winning that honour as a goal. Emma has an extensive resume of shows that she has exhibited at, worked at and succeeded at, and that is how she was chosen to be on the 2023 team. In 2022, she was the Reserve Grand Champion showman and had the Grand Champion calf, making her the overall winner at the Markham, Ontario show. She strives to be well-rounded in the industry, participating in the Dairy Challenge class at the University of Guelph, being a member of a top-placing judging team, serving as an intern crop specialist at FS Partners in Alliston and going on the road with numerous show herds.
As a show team member for Duckett Holsteins, Wisconsin; Reyncrest Farm, New York; Parallel Genetics and Glenholme Jerseys from Ontario, she has gained knowledge and skills that she hopes will serve her well in Belgium. As she prepares for the trip in September, she is going to focus on her clipping skills to gain more knowledge of techniques and skills that will help her. She is hoping to network and make new connections with her Canadian and European teammates. Emma is excited to stay with her host family and learn more about the European culture.
Sarah Dean will also achieve the longtime goal of representing the province of Ontario at YBS. As a 4-H member from start to finish, she has exhibited a 4-H heifer each year at numerous shows including the TD Canadian 4-H Dairy Classic, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and many local shows. As she was growing up in 4-H, she admired the people who were selected to attend YBS and made it a goal to try her best to get there as well. “I believe applying for this trip will only make me a better show person since I will be surrounded by some of the best in the world and will be able to gain knowledge and insight from them,” Sarah states.
In addition to spending the summer working at shows and improving her clipping skills, Sarah plans to spend some time working on her judging. She will rail judge classes at local shows and analyze conformation in the barn in preparation for the judging portion of the YBS contest.
In addition to getting to know her Canadian teammates better, she is looking forward to the connections that she will no doubt make in Europe.
As the 22-year-old daughter of Glenn and Leah Dean, she credits her parents with mentoring her. Her dad is passionate about high-type cattle and has passed that trait to her. Her mom has been her 4-H leader for years and has coached her at every show to learn something new.
Kolton Crack will follow a YBS family tradition in 2023 as his sister, Savannah, participated on the 2022 YBS team. A native of Richmond, Kolton will represent Quebec alongside Félix. Kolton has exhibited cattle at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the World Dairy Expo, Expo Printemps, Supreme Dairy Show and many more shows. He has been a top-placing showman in each age division at the World Dairy Expo and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. In addition to his showmanship skills, he is quickly becoming a top fitter in the industry.
Kolton is the son of David Crack and Caroline Bisson. An exciting aspect of Kolton’s future is that his family built a new facility in 2018. The new barn has a double-10 parlour, sand bedding and ensures a profitable future in the dairy business for Kolton and Savannah. The Cracks host regular sales, giving Kolton the opportunity to learn marketing and business skills.
As one of the younger members of the team and still eligible for 4-H shows this summer, he will be able to continue to hone his showmanship and judging skills throughout the summer.
Like his Canadian teammates, Kolton is looking forward to meeting new friends with similar interests from around the world, competing at an international level and enjoying his first trip to Europe.
Originally a Quebec-only trip, it has now expanded to include youth from across Canada. As mentioned above, each region has specific selection criteria with youth from Quebec and Ontario developing resumes and applications that highlight their past show experiences.
The 2023 team will have big shoes to fill as the 2022 group had five of the six participants finish in the top 10 in overall scores. Two of the team members won their respective showmanship classes. Alexandra Labbé was named champion in her age division and reserve overall showman while Derrick Knill won his division as well.