May 16, 2022 at 6:37 p.m.
Sibling pairs takes first at state FFA convention
“It was exciting but nervous at the same time because we knew we were in the top 5, but we still didn’t know who had placed where. And, four out of the top 5 teams were from Region VIII which tells you how tough the competition can be in this area,” Natalie Clemenson said. “It was also neat to be up on stage with our friends and fellow 4-H judging teammates, Calvin Benrud and Evelyn and Matt Scheffler.”
Even though the team placed first at the regional contest, they were not sure how they would do a state.
“I was definitely very proud of all of us and how far we’ve come from our 4-H county dairy judging days,” Ashlyn Miklas said.
The Miklas sisters, Ashlyn and Caryn, grew up milking cows and feeding calves at their grandparents’, Mark and Shari Chamberlain, 40-cow dairy near Pine Island. Ashlyn has been in FFA for four years and Caryn has been for three.
The Clemenson siblings, Natalie and Troy, grew up on their family’s 80-cow farm where they feed calves and heifers, help with milking, records and some fieldwork near Zumbrota in Goodhue County. Natalie has been judging in FFA for three years while this was Troy’s first year.
At the FFA contest, Ashlyn was third and Natalie was first place as individuals.
“I was pretty sure we would get first because two of us were in the top 3, but I didn’t know for sure,” Troy said.
The group was asked to judge five classes of Holstein dairy cows: aged, 2-year-olds, and December, January and October heifer calves. They also had to give two sets of reasons, complete a written test, multiple choice exam and look over pedigrees.
“Our FFA advisors really helped us look over the pedigree and learn what to look for, which was really helpful as this was my first year in FFA,” Troy said.
The team judges all summer in 4-H and then starts practicing for FFA in the middle of September. Their advisor, Andrea Siewert, worked with them until she went on maternity leave in February, then Mrs. Heublein worked with the team.
The kids are thankful for all the advisors have done, including hours spent practicing, driving to the contests and registering for the contests.
“We practiced once a week as a team and then mostly on our own or in sibling pairs,” Natalie said. “When I was doing chores, I would pick out cows on our farm that I thought looked the best and then ask Troy for his thoughts.”
“It just became a habit,” she said. “I’d be doing calf chores, and then all of sudden, I was judging them.”
Each member has their own strengths and weaknesses which have helped aid in the team’s overall success; Ashlyn is good with Guernseys, Caryn is good with Holsteins, Troy is good with Brown Swiss and Natalie is good with Holsteins.
“I feel like where one of us is not very good at a certain breed, there’s another person who is,” Ashlyn said.
They said their 4-H coaches, Maizie and Tony Scheffler, and 4-H mentors, Emily Mollenhauer and Tess Hokanson, are a huge part of the reason why they have been so successful.
“They really helped push us and show us the ropes of dairy judging,” Ashlyn said. “We are very thankful for their support.”
Natalie and Caryn remember first hearing Emily and Tess give their sets of reasons and were in complete awe of them. They did not think they could speak and memorize things like that, but years of practice and many contests with their mentors and coaches have shown them they can.
“I think nothing of it now,” Caryn said.
Ashlyn has been to two national 4-H dairy judging contests. Natalie and Caryn were also a part of the national 4-H dairy judging team from Goodhue County that went to Pennsylvania and took second place this past year; Caryn was first place individual at the contest.
“I was so excited to go to Pennsylvania because I had never flown on a plane before,” Caryn said.
After judging again this upcoming summer with their county 4-H program, the team will compete at the National FFA Convention Oct. 26-29 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“It’s such a big passion,” Caryn said. “Once you start doing good, you never get your mind off of it. It’s something you want to do every day.”
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to national convention at first because this will be the only year I can go for dairy judging, but I decided there is no one I would rather go with and I might not ever get the chance again,” Troy said. “I can find something else to judge in FFA.”
Since winning the state contest, the Clemensons and Miklases have received support from their FFA chapter, 4-H mentors and their school.
“Our FFA advisor, Andrea Siewert, was actually out on maternity leave, but she surprised us by coming up to the awards session,” Natalie said.
“She even came backstage after we were announced as the first place team and gave each of us a hug,” she said. “It was pretty cool to see her come back.”
“Our 4-H coaches also reached out and expressed that they were proud of us,” he said. “This meant a lot to us.”
They also believe their experience judging dairy cattle has helped them pick out better calves to bring to the fair and be of more help on the farm.
“I feel like I understand what the judges are looking for at the fair because now I just go out for chores and start looking,” Troy said. “I don’t even really think about it.”
“The written part in FFA judging has really helped me read the DHIA reports better, and I can see how my cows rank within the herd for pounds or fat percentages,” she said.
Both the Clemenson and the Miklas siblings plan to continue youth judging and plan to judge in college one day.