One thing Matt Henkes knows for sure — he’s a good judge of cows, at least as far as dairy cattle are concerned.

Matt, a Clayton County Farm Bureau member, runs Henkeseen Holsteins with his dad, Trent, and mom, Leslie, near Luana. They milk 65 head of mostly Holsteins with a few milking Shorthorns mixed in. They also breed dairy cattle and sell bulls.

“Working with the cows every day — it’s something I grew up with, it’s something I always wanted to do,” Matt said.

It’s enough to keep the family busy, but that doesn’t stop the younger Henkes from following his other passion: dairy cattle judging.

“I don’t really consider it work for me because I am so passionate about dairy judging,” he said.

Judging has become a secondary source of income for him and it allows him to travel out of state a few times a year.

“It gets me away from home to see different farms and different operations,” Matt said. “Plus, there are all the great people I get to meet along the way.”

Bit by judging bug

The judging bug really bit Matt hard while attending Iowa State University (ISU), where he was on the team that took third place at the 2012 World Dairy Expo. He was also named an all-American for his efforts.

“Originally, I planned to stay home and farm,” Matt said. “Then I was just going to go to community college — do two years there and come home. But I got a year in and decided to transfer to Iowa State and finish my degree there, so I could have more experiences, especially with dairy judging and dairy challenge teams.”

That experience has paid off. He now judges dairy competitions across the state and often participates in national events. This fall, he will judge a national junior dairy show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’m fortunate to have a really good working relationship with my dad,” Matt said. “And we have people who can come in and help when I’m gone.”

Matt and Trent milk their 65 cows twice a day and sell their milk to Prairie Farms.   

They also grow corn and hay for feed, which they have custom chopped each season.

Keeping costs low

With both men working on the farm, they are able to keep costs low, which when combined with the income Matt gets from judging dairy contests and their cattle breeding and marketing revenue, makes a good life for the Henkeses.

In fact, Matt just bought his own small acreage a few miles away from his mom and dad’s place. He said he’s looking forward to having his own home and keeping a few cows out in his pasture.

Next up: Coaching

Next up for Matt, he would like to do more dairy judging team coaching. “Coaching is something I love doing, enjoy working with the students, sharing my experiences, bringing the knowledge I have from working with cows every day,” he said.

And he’s well on his way. Last fall, he served as an interim coach for the ISU team and will work with them again this coming fall.