Youthful team takes the win

Lake City FFA victorious at state convention in dairy judging

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LAKE CITY, Minn. — Lake City FFA Chapter’s state-winning dairy judging team consists of three eighth graders and one sophomore.

Blake Siewert, son of Kevin and Kay, a sophomore, was joined by eighth graders Lillian Schumacher, daughter of Nathan and Tina, and twin sisters, Emily and Ashley Mellgren, daughters of Adam and Sarah Mellgren.

They won the dairy cattle evaluation and management Career Development Event at the state FFA convention in April.

“I was ... really excited and surprised to get first since we’re going up against people a lot older than us,” Ashley Mellgren said. “We’re a young team, so it was pretty cool.”

The Lake City team won the competition by 13 points. Emily also took No. 1 in the state as an individual.

“I was surprised because there are so many people, and I’m not as experienced as other people are,” Emily said.

The team said a favorite memory from their experience is the community support they received. Along with their family, the students were supported by the Lake City High School principal and the superintendent as they received their award. To their teams’ knowledge, this is the first time that Lake City has won any CDE at the state level.

Siewert is part of his family’s dairy farm, Hyde Park Holsteins near Zumbro Falls, where they milk 750 cows.

The Mellgrens work on their parents’ farm, Higher Ground Holsteins, also near Zumbro Falls, where they milk 70 cows.

Schumacher leases show cattle from the Mellgrens.

“A big part (of dairy judging) is ... being with your friends,” Schumacher said. “I didn’t grow up on a farm, so this is another way for me to get into agriculture.”

Siewert and the Mellgrens have been showing through 4-H since they were Cloverbuds, and Schumacher has been showing since the fifth grade. All participate in 4-H dairy judging and three are involved with dairy bowl.

Haely Leiding is the FFA adviser at Lake City.

“They’re practicing year-round almost for this contest,” Leiding said. “All those pieces are making them better farmers, better agriculturalists, better FFA members.”

Leiding’s twin sister, Kayla Sexton, is the team’s 4-H leader and trains them for 4-H dairy judging.

Leiding said having her FFA team win is a full-circle moment for her. Leiding and Sexton won the same competition in 2013.

To help prepare for judging, the team practices at the Mellgrens’ farm or Siewert’s farm.

Ashley said she and Emily also do informal practices with their parents.

“As the cows come in the parlor, you can look at them every day, and you get an option every day to practice and give reasons and just compare the cows,” Ashley said.

The Mellgrens will take two similar-aged cows and compare them.

“We talk about which one is better and their faults ... and areas that they need improvement,” Ashley said.

Siewert said he mentally does dairy judging at home too.

Ashley said something she enjoys about dairy judging is getting to look at other animals and see their potential. For Emily, she appreciates the skills she is gaining to be able to pick out her own animals for showing.

Siewert said the competition is helpful for eventually making his own breeding decisions because it allows him to see and identify faults and make improvements.

Siewert and the Mellgrens are active on their respective farms.

Siewert helps with calf care, cow health and breeding, working on the farm every day after school. The Mellgrens take turns every other morning doing chores before school. After school, they also do chores unless sports interfere. They work with calves and heifers, and, as needed, they help with milking or other chores.

Ashley has learned confidence through winning the state competition.

“Don’t think you can’t beat people who are older than you just because you’re younger,” she said.

The team will attend the national dairy judging competition in October. Leiding said her team is nervous about competing against older teams.

The team will be asked to do a presentation, something they have never done before.

“We have to really prepare for that, ... because that is a big part of your score at nationals,” Siewert said.

Giving reasons is another challenge, Emily said.

“We’re going against such older and (more) experienced people, so that’s something that we should work on as a team,” Emily said.

Schumacher said one of the life lessons from dairy judging is teamwork. She said she has observed her teammates working together to quickly find answers.

Leiding agreed.

“They’re truly friends and want the best for each other,” Leiding said. “That makes them even more competitive within themselves too. They want to beat each other, but they want to be the best they can be for each other too.”

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