Distinguished Junior Member honors a stepping stone for Jr. Holstein youth

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Corey Geiger (left) says earning DJM finalist honors were a launch pad for his career. Geiger, seated with Holstein USA President Boyd Schaufelberger, is managing editor of Hoard's Dairyman and has served as a board member and officer of Holstein USA and will run for president of the organization at this year's National Convention in June.

Like many members attending their first Junior Holstein Convention, Carley Krull looked up to the older junior members stepping forward to receive awards recognizing their achievements in the program—especially those earning the Distinguished Junior Member (DJM) award.

"I knew those individuals were dedicated youth who would make an impact on the dairy and Registered Holstein industry...something that I've wanted to do my whole life," said Krull.

The list of those who have achieved the distinction of being named a DJM national finalist—the highest honor bestowed upon a junior member—reads like a Who's Who in the agricultural industry. Linking them is the passion that they feel for the Holstein breed and the industry. 

Managing Editor of Hoard's Dairyman and Vice President of Holstein USA said the national dairy industry unfolded before his eyes at the age of 20, as he and his family traveled to New York in 1993 to attend the National Holstein Convention where he was named one of six DJM national finalists.

"Quite frankly, the DJM finalist honors were a launch pad for me," Geiger said. "That experience bears fruit every day."

After winning DJM honors, he was elected to the Junior Advisory Committee for Holstein USA and continued to hone his leadership skills on the board of directors, as vice president and potentially as president of the organization.

Geiger said the experience not only changed him, but his family as well.

"We all grew as a family. After that convention, we learned as a family that the farm business could run when we were gone because we were active managers," he said. "Since then, our family blossomed and learned to be servant leaders in our industry."

Confidence boost

While she admired past DJM recipients, Shelly (Lammers) O'Leary didn't believe she was in the same league.

"If I hadn't been encouraged to apply I probably wouldn't have—I just didn't believe I had what it took," O'Leary said. "At that time, I felt like a little fish in a big pond."

Shelly O'Leary

Being named a DJM national finalist changed her perspective.

"I learned that you take opportunities that come your way no matter how unqualified you feel, and that believing in yourself is vital to your success, especially if you don't believe in yourself," said O'Leary who serves as a communication and outreach specialist at Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

Earning DJM status also boosted her self confidence.

"This overflowed into my decisions to become more involved in leadership positions..." she said. "Each stepping stone led to bigger steps; it's fair to say earning DJM was a turning point in my dairy career."

Team Pralle

Those who aspire to be a DJM semifinalist must first complete an entry book, detailing their Junior Holstein project work, involvement with their cattle, program participation, and school and community activities.

The 12 semifinalists chosen from across the U.S. travel to the National Convention where they are interviewed by a panel of judges. Jessica Pralle of Humbird, Wis., says she was terrified to speak in front of people, let alone a panel of judges when she first started the DJM process.

"Going through the application and interview process taught me how to own my Holstein story and to inspire others along the way," said Jessica, who is employed as an assistant herdsman Miltrim Farms in Athens, Wis., but hopes to return to the home farm, Salz-Pralle Dairy, and continue the legacy of breeding high producing cows.

Nicole Pralle says she started filling out her DJM form because older siblings, Ryan and Jessica did, and subsequently were named DJM national finalists in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ryan (right), Jessica (center) and Nicole Pralle each earned DJM finalist honors in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.

"I filled out the form to tell my story," Nicole said. "I wanted to show them I wasn't just another Pralle: same story, same farm, same goals. Everyone's path within Junior Holstein and their journey with the Holstein cow is unique to themselves and isn't something that can be compared."

Nicole will graduate from UW Madison and hopes to work in sales/marketing for an international company in the dairy industry. Older brother, Ryan, also attends UW-Madison and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Dairy Science department. 

No rivalry

Ryan says there was no sibling rivalry between the three as they worked to achieve their respective goals.

"The three of us had a supportive dynamic, especially within our Holstein Association activities," he said. "There were plenty of nights we would quiz each other with potential DJM questions, discuss interview strategies, or just talk shop about dairy farming and the Holstein Association."

The cooperative group sessions went a long way in preparing the Pralle siblings for the DJM process.

"Nothing can better prepare you for a future job interview at such a young age," Nicole said. "At the national level, having six judges staring at you and asking questions is nerve racking. However, it has left me prepared to walk into any interview calm, collected and confident in myself and my capabilities."

Being named a finalist was a bit of a reaffirmation of his connection to the dairy industry, Ryan said.

"Even though I was involved in my Holstein project and the Holstein Association, I always had a sense of an impostor syndrome; I doubted my accomplishments and knowledge. The recognition helped me realize the strength of my personal connection and value to the industry.

"Taking this step is a unique opportunity for Junior Holstein members to grow in their Holstein project and professional skillset," he added.

Role models and more

Carley Krull had a lot of role models to look up to, especially in her own family. Her aunt, Sue (Krull) Schultz, was a DMJ finalist in 1977 and older sister, Cassy, collected the honor in 2014, saying it was an honor to follow in their footsteps.

"Growing up in a family that was very involved in Junior Holstein encouraged me to keep up on my form and be successful too," said Carley, a junior at Iowa State University. "So every year from the age of 10 until 20, I kept updating, improving and revising my entire form, using the comments from judges each year. I was ecstatic to be able to apply to be a national DJM finalist as my Junior Holstein career came to a close."

Sisters Carley (left) and Cassy Krull of Jefferson County, were selected as DJM finalists in 2017 and 2014 respectively.

Her sister, Cassy, says she was inspired by the contestants that came before her.

"A lot of participants were role models within our dairy industry, both nationally and in Wisconsin," she said. "It was easy for me to feel like I wanted to be someone like that from a young age. I was able to aspire to be like them and started putting actions in place to eventually be able to participate as a DJM finalist within Wisconsin and at the national level."

The experience has helped both sisters springboard into the professional side of the dairy industry. It has also cemented their love of the industry.

"It was clear to me that I wanted to continue on in the dairy industry no matter how tough times get," Carley said. "The sense of family I felt throughout the process was so rewarding and reminded me of why I love this industry so much."

A little help

O'Leary says friends in other professions didn't have nearly the opportunities for growth or recognition as those in the dairy industry.

"They also didn't have access to associations that helped them advance in their careers—and they certainly didn't have the same network of friends and leaders that we do in dairy," O'Leary said. 

At the end of the day, Jessica Pralle says it's an award.

"It's those who have remained successful and put their legs under their passion every day, and I plan to do the same," she said.