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GARDEN CITY, Minn. (AP) - John Schroeder had gentle suggestions for a 7-year-old with tear-stained cheeks who made her first appearance in the 4-H judging arena.

"When you get big enough you want to hold her head up nice and high," Schroeder told Emma Appel as she showed her dairy cow Jewel at the Blue Earth County Fair.

Emma was upset that her dad couldn't make it to watch her but left the ring with a smile as Schroeder congratulated her on a strong first showing.

Emma was the only entrant in the division for the youngest dairy cow show competitors. Some of the other divisions also only had one entrant.

Julie Tesch, interim Blue Earth County 4-H program coordinator, said he was worried Schroeder wouldn't agree to judge again this year when he learned there wouldn't be many participants. But he didn't hesitate.

"He replied, 'I don't care the size of the show. Those youth deserve the same opportunities as large counties and I am happy to help,'" Tesch told the Mankato Free Press . "That right there sums up John Schroeder."

This summer marks Schroeder's 50th year judging dairy cattle. It's more than 50 if you count his years as a student judge.

The lifelong dairy farmer from rural Courtland got his start on the University of Minnesota judging team. He got his first invitation to be a professional judge soon after graduating in 1969.

He's since judged approximately 350 shows, mostly for 4-H and FFA.

For 25 years Schroeder also coached the New Ulm FFA dairy judging team, continuing after his own children were grown.

"I just enjoy talking cows and teaching kids," he said.

He judges the bovines on how well their physical attributes match breed ideals. He judges their handlers on how well they control and display their entry and how they answer questions about their animal.

"I have a passion for beautiful cattle and I like working with young people," Schroeder said.

Schroeder has judged fair shows in two-thirds of Minnesotan's counties. He also has been to Wisconsin and South Dakota a few times and judged at the Minnesota State Fair several times.

In his prime, Schroeder judged up to 10 shows a year. This year he's down to two. He's warned Tesch that this year might be his last.

"My age is catching up with me," he said.

Tesch said she remembers Schroeder judging her when she was a youth.

"I always remembered his kindness and helping me become a better show person," she said.

Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial 11th-grader Matt Thofson was named this year's dairy show grand champion. The Vernon Center area teen said Schroeder gave him good advice on how he could improve his showmanship and which member of his herd he should select to take to the State Fair.

"(Schroeder) comes from a dairy farm. He's seen a lot of cattle. He knows what to look for," Thofson said.

When an aging body forces him to retire from judging, Schroeder said he will be content to come back as a spectator.

"Maybe it's time for someone younger to step in," he said. "I have done my share and have had a great time doing it."

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