September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Among those recognized was Lindsey Rettenmund of the Wisconsin Heights FFA Chapter, who was honored as the state winner of the Dairy Production Placement Proficiency Award.
Agricultural proficiency awards honor FFA members for their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects. These projects allow FFA members to develop specialized skills that can be applied toward their careers later in life. With 49 areas of expertise, proficiency awards allow students to showcase what they have learned through employment or the ownership of their own business.
Choosing the right award area was no challenge for Rettenmund, who has grown up on her family's 300-head Holstein dairy farm in Black Earth, Wis.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to take over feeding the calves," Rettenmund said. "When my older sister went off to college, I saw my opportunity to get involved with calf care."
The basis of Rettenmund's project is focused on the 40 calves on her family's dairy farm. She is responsible for caring for and feeding the calves, in addition to milking cows.
The greatest obstacle in her project was expansion. When the farm expanded slightly due to freshening heifers, Rettenmund trudged forward with the help of her family.
"When I first took over the responsibilities of feeding calves, we had 10 hutches," Rettenmund said. "Then we expanded from 10 to 37 hutches. It was a lot to take on, and I needed help from my siblings when we hit 40 two summers ago."
The learning curve that came with that many calves paid off in the long run. Throughout her SAE, Rettenmund learned to administer shots, assist with calving and diagnose common illnesses. It's a skill set she said she is proud of.
"Every time we have new calves, it can be stressful at first, but I eventually get used to the new system," Rettenmund said.
Her ability to identify and diagnose an illness has contributed to lowering the calf mortality rate on her farm to under 2 percent. Rettenmund said the most rewarding part of her project has been keeping a healthy calf herd.
"Having a low mortality rate shows that we are successful. A few years ago, we had windchills of -50 degrees without a single calf death. I was able to catch the symptoms and treat calf illnesses due to the cold," Rettenmund said.
Her continued success is what motivated Rettenmund to apply for a state proficiency award. It was the fifth year she had applied for the award. She was notified of her first place finish during her chapter's FFA banquet on May 3.
Describing her reaction to finding out her placing, Rettenmund said, "My advisor was revealing the results of proficiencies. She said my name and the result for another award area I had applied for. When she didn't initially reveal the result of my dairy production SAE until the end, I knew I must have done well."
Rettenmund realizes that hard work pays off.
"I have tried for this for the last five years. After filling out the application, working on it, and working with my adviser to improve it, it was worth all five years," Rettenmund said.
The application process is a huge undertaking for an FFA member. Members seeking a proficiency award must first fill out a 20-page application, containing everything from photos with captions to a ranking scale of their skill efficiencies. The applications are sent to the state level, where they are reviewed and nominated for a gold, silver or bronze rating. Of all of the applicants, Rettenmund placed first of the 22 state finalists, all of whom received cash awards from industry sponsors.
Rettenmund's involvement with the FFA began in eighth grade. While her middle school did not offer an FFA program, she attended meetings with her brother at Wisconsin Heights High School. She became a member the following year, and went on to serve as a chapter officer, attend national and state conventions and participate in the majority of her chapter-level activities. Her adviser is Kimberly Houser, agricultural educator at Wisconsin Heights High School.
In addition to being named winner in the Dairy Production Placement Proficiency, Rettenmund also placed in the top nine of Wisconsin's Star in Agricultural Placement finalists. State Star finalists are selected based on an additional application that is submitted when an FFA member receives their state FFA degree.
Rettenmund plans to attend the UW-Madison Short Course for a certificate in dairy farm management beginning in November. She will receive her certificate in March 2016 and plans to return to Short Course for an additional certificate in either crops and soils or ag mechanics.
Much of Rettenmund's success is owed to the FFA organization.
"I wouldn't consider myself as much of a go-getter when I was a freshman as I do today," Rettenmund said. "Because of FFA, I have developed professional skills and have opened myself up by getting to know other people who have the same interests as me."
Rettenmund is the daughter of Mark and Gail Rettenmund of Black Earth, Wis. She is one of six children, and has farmed with all her siblings: Vanessa (Rettenmund) Lochner, Derick, Devin, Brenda and Alisha. After college, Rettenmund hopes to return to the family farm before beginning a farm of her own.
"It really depends on the people I meet, the network I build and where I go," Rettenmund said. "But as for right now, I plan to be a dairy farmer."