July 22, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Princess Kay Finalists
A representative to the next generation
ST. CHARLES, Minn. – When Riley Ward was a little girl, she would not eat a meal if it did not include ice cream, usually chocolate flavored.
“I ultimately ended up eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner growing up,” she said.
Now, the Winona County Dairy Princess is vying to represent the dairy products she loves at the highest level as one of the 10 finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way.
“I’ve always loved speaking opportunities and just advocating for things I believe strongly in, especially the dairy industry,” Ward said. “Through this opportunity, I just hope to give back.”
Ward is the daughter of Randy and Minnie Ward. She lives and works on her family’s custom heifer-raising facility near St. Charles where they work with 200 animals.
As a dairy princess, Ward is interested in connecting with college-aged consumers because they are beginning to make decisions for themselves and are the next generation of employees, parents and politicians. Ward said the 18- to 24-year-olds who vie for Princess Kay are well suited to connect with this demographic.
“That younger age group can represent and relate to the incoming generations where it’s very important to address the nutritional benefits of dairy,” Ward said.
In keeping with the chocolate theme, though Ward still enjoys ice cream, she loves to share about a different dairy product, chocolate milk.
“It’s amazing for your (body), especially post workouts,” she said. “It gives you so many benefits.”
Ward ran track in high school and was always encouraging her teammates to refuel with chocolate milk.
“Every single track practice, we (would) end up talking about chocolate milk,” she said.
As an athlete, nutrition is key for Ward. She sees a connection between good nutrition, including dairy and mental health.
“Runners tend to have eating disorders as well as body dysmorphia, so it’s very important to me to maintain a healthy diet, especially when I’m active,” Ward said.
Another important message Ward plans to share as a dairy princess is the significance of animal care to dairy farmers.
“It’s important that (cows) are in a stress-free and happy environment; that way, we can watch them grow and prosper,” she said.
Her own family’s farm models the animal care she is excited to share about.
“We actually have it really nicely set up right now so that there’s a stress-free environment for the heifers,” Ward said. “As they change their stages, ... we just keep pushing them through different gates. They just go right down the line until all of a sudden, they go right back to the farm.”
Ward and her family recently made an addition to their facilities. Their new calf barn is equipped with multiple automatic calf feeders, automatic waterers, fan ventilation and ammonia detectors.
Ward appreciates the facility because its technology helps give the calves consistent feedings. Calves enter their facility once a week, ranging in age from a few days old to a week, from Prestrud Dairy in Wisconsin. Calves spend their time on the Wards’ farm in cohorts of approximately 20 to 25. Calves move through the barn from pen to pen through gates for low-stress transitions alongside their cohort. The calves return to their owners at 5 months old.
On the farm, Ward is involved with whatever needs to be done. Her favorite task is bottle feeding calves.
Outside the farm and her athletic endeavors, Ward is also active in 4-H. She is a Minnesota 4-H state ambassador, serving as committee project manager. In this role, she makes sure the 4-H ambassadors feel connected and that the various 4-H committees are communicating with each other.
Ward, who graduated this spring from St. Charles High School, was also a peer helper at her school, working with students who need a listening ear but who might not feel comfortable speaking with a school counselor. Ward sees mental health as important in rural communities and beyond.
In the fall, Ward will attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth, majoring in business management and economics. Ward said she is looking forward to being part of a land-grant university and staying close to the people she knows.
For Ward, being connected to the dairy industry as a dairy princess is well worth the investment involved.
“I’ve never met a farmer who I wasn’t able to instantly connect with,” Ward said. “To me, it’s one big community (where) we share this common goal to sustain and feed our nation. It’s home, and I want to give back to all those people that have made it my home.”