The winning ingredient: Practice
So, how do teams that win, well . . . win?
The Amery FFA team recently won the state FFA dairy judging contest among 38 full teams. FFA Career Development Events (CDE) provide high school FFA members the opportunity to test their knowledge and skills in their favorite discipline — for many that's dairy judging.
Many dairy youth have competed in 4-H dairy judging contests, but most FFA contests have additional segments to their contest. In addition to class placings and oral reasons, contests may include a written exam and linear scoring. So, while 4-H may have provided a strong base for FFA judging, there are more components to the puzzle.
The Amery FFA dairy judging team has been judging together for three years. Team members, Meikah Dado and Jillian Jensen, are seniors, while Tayler Elwood and Thomas Christenson are juniors. The elder two members judged together as freshman and were on the 33rd placed team. Not the greatest debut.Many others would have given up with such a disappointing start.
The following year, two freshman joined the team. In their first year together (2014) the team placed 11th overall at the state contest. Last year, they moved to third place. And, last month, they took the top spot.
Three years together has helped the foursome be more consistent in their placings. They practice dairy judging each Sunday night in the spring with the county 4-H team (which they are also a part of.) Dairy farmer, Jered Haase of Osceola, Carrie-Melin-Swenson of St. Croix Falls, and Kirsten Kluglow of Amery, are their dairy judging coaches.
This same squad also competed in 4-H dairy quiz bowl to work on the knowledge needed for the 150-point written exam. After not winning any matches in 2014, they placed 2nd at the state 4-H contest this spring.
Tayler just completed his junior year at Amery High School. He lives with his parents, Brent and Dawn Elwood, and his sister, Katherine on their 60 cow registered Holstein farm in Amery. Tayler's future plans include becoming an agricultural mechanic. This summer he will exhibit his dairy and swine at the Polk County Fair.
'Hard work, dedication, and complete commitment. This is what it takes to be successful and reach the goal of winning. My teammates and I have put our complete commitment in this contest; from practicing every Sunday morning to studying on our own every day possible,' said Tayler. 'In order to be a team we have to be all in, meaning we all need to have the same attitude towards this goal. This team has put their fair share of hard work and it has shown that it has paid off.'
The team worked on reasons each Sunday morning (after chores) since September. Their reasons went from the 30s to the 40s. Their FFA advisor, Mr. Meyer, is more of a livestock and speaking coach, so he relies on assistance from those in the community with judging and oral reasons experience to aid in his students' development.
To prepare for the contest's linear evaluation, they learned from the Holstein Association USA classifier who was scoring cows at Four Hands Holsteins. He took time to talk about linear evaluation, two-way traits, and explained classification.
All of the students live on dairy farms and have daily chores. All of their parents work on the farm, so they were always learning while they were working, without it being called 'studying' or 'practicing.'
When asked, 'Why did you win?' Meikah Dado said, 'I think we won because we worked hard for it, we started practicing for the test in October and studied a lot on our own time. My teammates and I have worked and practiced as a team because we know it takes a team effort to win.'
Meikah Dado will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall, majoring in Life Science Communications and Nutritional Science. She served as Miss Amery and played in the Amery High School band. Meikah is the daughter of Rick and Gwen Dado. They reside on Four Hands Holsteins, a 400-cow dairy farm, with Meikah's three older siblings.
So, while many youth would get discouraged with a 33rd team placing and 86th and 101st individual ranking as freshman, the two seniors used it as challenge to do better in the future. And after four years of state contests, they both placed in the Top 10 individuals.
As a team, they scored over 200 more points in 2016 as compared to 2014, and over 120 of the increase was on the written exam.
At times it may seem hopeless to do well in the face of the steepest of competition, but through hard-work and a whole team effort, growth and improvement can be realized. And eventually, great results are possible.
Thomas Christenson is the youngest child of Dave and Connie Christenson. Along with three older siblings, they call Lakecrest Holsteins home. Thomas is in the Amery High School band and choir. No doubt his strong, controlled singing voice helped him earn high marks when delivering his oral reasons. He will be exhibiting his dairy project at the Polk County Fair in few months.
'We are a very consistent team. Depending on the contest, each of us alternate our rankings, but we are close in overall scores. This uniformity helps us grow and improve together, at the same pace,' commented Thomas.
As the number of farms continues to decline, the number of youth on farms also falls. This can be a particular challenge to find four youth with an active interest in dairy judging. And to compound the challenge, not all FFA advisors are proficient at dairy judging. But, by utilizing the talents of industry experts, FFA members can learn, grow in their knowledge, and reach their potential.
Jillian Jensen lives in Comstock with her parents Neil and Janice Jensen and sister, Laura. They operate Idle Gold Guernseys in Comstock, where they have both Guernseys and Holsteins. She will be a student at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, studying archeology and geology. She played basketball and soccer at Amery High School and was a member of the school's band.
'I guess every team studies differently, but what really helped us was experiencing the farm. We would go outside to the farm and physically go through different feeds, medicines and milking parlors. I believe this hands on experience was a big part of our winning,' shared Jillian.
The national FFA contest and Wisconsin's state contests require all four students' scores to count in the overall rankings. So, there can be no 'warm bodies' on contest day waiting to be the dropped score. Everyone needs to put forth his or her full effort, and that is exactly what these four did, and are still doing. They had a great example to follow. Amery FFA previously won the state FFA Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in 2012 and went on to be the Reserve National Champion team that fall.
Again, I ask, 'So, how do teams that win, well . . . win?' It takes practice and commitment from the four team members, their families, and coaches. So this Amery team will continue to practice over the summer, just like they have for the past nine months, in preparation for the National FFA contest in October in Indianapolis, IN.