The best thing they have done

Wingert family appreciates opportunities afforded by 4-H

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HARMONY, Minn. — Madylan Wingert would rather be in 4-H than playing sports.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” Madylan said. “I have nothing else I really like more than showing in 4-H even though show days get a little hectic and we all go crazy.”

Jim and Randi Wingert’s children — Coltin, Morgan, Claytin, Madylan, Maggie, Melony and Martina — have all been active in 4-H. Coltin and Morgan have graduated and are no longer eligible, but the five youngest children continue to build a 4-H dairy legacy.

“All in all, it’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done for the kids,” Randi said.

The family milks 100 Holstein, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and crossbred cows in a double-6, double step-up parlor. They also raise their own corn silage on 100 owned and rented acres.

The Wingert children are third-generation 4-H members through Jim’s side of the family. Randi did not grow up in 4-H.

The Wingerts specialize in dairy cows and heifers, taking a string of 15-18 to the Fillmore County Fair.

Though most of their efforts center on dairy, they participate in other projects as well. Claytin works on woodworking, welding and metalworking projects. Maggie and Melony both take craft projects and Melony is trying photography this year. Martina participates in fine arts and photography.

Each day, the heifers are walked one to two miles. They also walk the milk cows two to three days a week but try to balance the value of the walking against the time lost for the cows’ eating and resting.

“We just spend 94% of our day with these cattle,” Madylan said. “It’s like an unbreakable bond.”

The efforts with their cattle are why 4-H is important to Maggie.

“It shows all of our hard work that we put in with our animals and that we know how to take care of them,” Maggie said.

Randi said Martina spends time with the young calves, making them friendly and easier to break.

“Most of ours are pretty good,” Randi said. “Everything’s a big baby around here.”

When the family first became involved with 4-H, many people helped them, and now they are paying it forward. Madylan said she has grown in leadership through this.

“When I was new to the state fair, there were a lot of older people who helped me,” Madylan said. “Now I help all the new kids with bedding and washing and what to do on show day, what to say in their interviews, or whatever they have to do.”

The Wingerts have been intentional about their growth each year, Randi said.

“We just tried to improve on one thing, whether it was with fitting or showing,” Randi said. “We’ve definitely evolved in the animals that we have chosen to bring and how we care for them.”

The week before the county fair is a whirlwind of packing, cooking, washing and clipping. Randi and Madylan do all the clipping while Melony and Maggie do most of the washing. Claytin, Melony and Maggie sometimes pick up extra chores as well.

During the fair, 4-H show day is chaotic. Madylan wakes at 3 a.m. to wash the string for one to two hours before the wash racks are busy. By 7 a.m. she and Morgan will be working on toplines.

Coltin enjoys helping to set up stalls. The Wingerts try to keep three people at the fair and rotate the rest at home.

“It’s been fun to watch them grow as a family,” Randi said. “They had to learn how to work together because Mom and Dad can’t be there. ... They’ve had to problem solve.”

Since Coltin was a seventh-grade student, the Wingerts have taken animals to the Minnesota State Fair each year.

This year H5N1 may change their plans on what animals they bring to the county fair. Their goal is to bring four to six lactating animals.

“That’s still all very new, and I don’t quite know how that’s going to play out,” Randi said. “It’s still too early for us to know.”

Besides the county fair, the Wingerts also participate in 4-H dairy judging, 4-H dairy quiz bowl and FFA dairy evaluation.

The Wingers said 4-H has taught them lessons in leadership, confidence and patience.

Randi said when Coltin, her oldest, began 4-H he was shy and timid.

“Coltin is definitely my 4-H success story,” Randi said. “He’s a leader. He’s confident. He chaperones. He can go and have a conversation with the adults, and they value what he says.”

Melony said she appreciates the social aspect of 4-H.

“(It has) helped me meet a lot of new people I didn’t think I would actually talk to,” she said.

Looking to the future, all the Wingerts have dreams they would like to accomplish. Martina would like to win a Brown Swiss show. Maggie would like to win the county fair with a crossbred. Melony would like to win best in show at the county fair with her Brown Swiss or take a Brown Swiss to World Dairy Expo. Madylan would like to place higher in showmanship at the Minnesota State Fair.

Randi said she is happy with their family’s choice to invest in 4-H.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort, but you also get out of it what you put into it,” Randi said. “The people and the memories and the experiences are priceless.”

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