It has been a hectic fall for Tommy Allen, but a good one. He's a freshman at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, IA, but he's missed a lot of class lately.
All those missed days were for a good cause though - all aimed at what he hopes is a future career in dairy genetics.
First he missed class to show his family's prized Jersey cattle at World Dairy Expo in Madison.
Then he had to visit Indianapolis to pick up the National FFA Proficiency Award for Dairy Production-Entrepreneurship. After that whirlwind he went to Louisville to show and sell some top Jersey animals at the North American Livestock Exposition.
Allen, 19, sold the highest selling Jersey at the North American, says his proud grandfather David Allen of Reedsburg.
"Tommy always showed an interest in the Jerseys," says David Allen. "He showed at the county fair, Wisconsin State Fair and at World Dairy Expo and then he developed an especially strong interest in sires and genetics."
The elder Allen recalls that Tommy made a fortunate purchase at the aptly named "Pot of Gold" sale designed to make good Jersey genetics available to junior exhibitors and he was off and running, on his way to building a good genetic base.
Today, the National Dairy Proficiency winner has a herd of about 41 cattle.
For Tommy, winning the FFA award was a "crazy moment."
"You're up on stage before so many people and to hear them call your name. It's something I don't think I'll ever forget."
He says he has always aimed his Jersey project at quality and with seven bulls already in bull stud lineups and an additional 16 contracts he's working on, the proof appears to be in the pudding.
Tommy credits his grandfather with mentoring him and getting him involved in the purchase of the high-quality Jerseys he owns. It all began when he was in the seventh grade and they purchased that first heifer for him at the Louisville sale.
"It is something I grew up watching my grandfather do and I have enjoyed the people I have met because of the cattle," he told Wisconsin State Farmer in a telephone interview.
Allen also credits his two Reedsburg FFA chapter advisors for getting him up onto that stage at the National FFA Convention recently in Indianapolis. "Both of them had a lot to do with it. They started talking to me about it when I was a freshman and helped me complete the application."
The advisors, Todd Cherney and Nick Casey, also vetted his application and advised him on what kinds of changes to make, he said.
Now majoring in dairy science at the Iowa school, Allen said the program there is designed to help students get two years of education and then transfer to another school if they are interested in a four-year degree.
"I'd like to get a bachelor's degree and to do that I plan to transfer after my sophomore year to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls."
During his summers, Allen hopes to line up internships with cattle genetics companies to further his education in his chosen industry.
Genomics, the ranking of cattle based on their DNA, came along just as the Allens and their All-Lynn Jerseys were building a base of high-quality cattle. "Genomics changed everything for us. It lets you know what you have," says the younger Allen.
"We were fortunate - the animals we already owned were high in genomic measurements. My grandfather and I always say that the proof's in the DNA. Genomics really changed the game for us."
Now, genomics provides a tool the young dairy entrepreneur can use to tell the difference between the future value of full siblings. The Allens have produced the number-one genomic young sire in the breed.
"It's very exciting for me knowing that what our farm does can ultimately affect the whole breed."
Grandfather Dave marvels at the way his grandson can remember facts about pedigrees and sires, which makes his grandson laugh. "I'm fortunate that way, but my family teases me that I can remember things like that but I can't remember what I did yesterday."
Tommy's mother Leigh Toberman and her parents were able to go to Indianapolis to see him get the high honor from FFA. His dad, Troy Allen, and his proud grandfather and other family members had to stay home because of farm work and watch it on television.
David Allen can't wait to see what comes next for his grandson. "I think Tommy will probably have a career in dairy livestock."