Waukon and Kee High School FFA chapters win State Championships on same day in dairy Career Development Events, will now compete at National FFA Convention

Dairy Cattle Evaluation State Champions ... The Little Switzerland FFA Chapter at Waukon High School was crowned the 2018 Iowa FFA Champion Dairy Cattle Evaluation Team in early September. Pictured above, left to right, are Waukon High School agriculture instructor and FFA advisor Jessica O’Connor with team members and Waukon High School students Grace Howe, Faith Palmer, Cayla Nolting and Kaylee Gibbs. Submitted photo.

Milk Quality & Products State Champions ... The Lansing FFA Chapter at Kee High School was crowned the 2018 Iowa Champion FFA Milk Quality & Products Team in early September. Pictured above are team members including: Left to right - Front row: Kee High School students Brooke Stanley and Rachel Walleser. Back row: Kee High School student Charles Stendel, Kee High School agriculture instructor and FFA advisor Ray Rankin and Kee High School student Peter Boland. Photo courtesy of the Kee High School Yearbook.

The honor of a State Championship is something every school strives for but only a handful get to experience, so to have two schools within about a 20-minute drive of one another in the same county each achieve a State Championship on the same day is, indeed, a rarity.

That’s exactly what transpired for the FFA chapters at both Waukon and Kee High Schools Saturday, September 8, as they each had teams emerge as the best in the state of Iowa in their respective Career Development Events (CDE) held in conjunction with the 2018 Youth Dairy Classic at Manchester. The Little Switzerland FFA Chapter of Waukon High School was crowned the Iowa Champion FFA Dairy Cattle Evaluation Team and the Lansing FFA Chapter of Kee High School in Lansing was named the Iowa Champion FFA Milk Quality & Products Team.

The championship Dairy Cattle Evaluation team from the Waukon chapter topped a field of 18 teams that involved 63 individuals competing in this year’s event designed to provide students an opportunity to display their knowledge and skills in the area of dairy cattle selection and management. Team members include Waukon High School seniors Grace Howe and Cayla Nolting and juniors Kaylee Gibbs and Faith Palmer under the guidance of agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor Ms. Jessica O’Connor.

The Lansing FFA chapter topped a field of 15 teams involving 52 individuals in earning its Milk Quality & Products crown in an event designed to provide students an opportunity to display their knowledge and skills in the area of milk quality and dairy foods. Under the direction of agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor Mr. Ray Rankin, the team is made up entirely of Kee High School juniors, as Peter Boland, Brooke Stanley, Charles Stendel and Rachel Walleser will go down in Lansing FFA history as belonging to the first-ever State Championship team in the program’s young existence.

“Not only is it exciting that two FFA chapters from Allamakee County won State Championships, but I believe it speaks highly of the dairy industry here in the county,” O’Connor said. “The industry is facing many difficult challenges but we have young people who are very passionate about the dairy industry and some who even want to remain involved for years to come. While we are currently in a low point, I truly believe that we have young adults who are going to lead the way to a better tomorrow for the dairy industry.”

Rankin shared a similar sentiment, noting, “I think this says a lot about our two communities and we are hoping to make northeast Iowa and the dairy industry proud in representing Allamakee County.”

Both teams will now compete in their respective Career Development Event during the National FFA Convention & Expo scheduled for October 24-27 in Indianapolis, IN. The Little Switzerland FFA Chapter out of Waukon High School will also be further represented in competition at the National FFA Convention by its Farm Business Management team that claimed State honors at the Iowa FFA Farm Management Career Development Event held at Iowa State University in Ames in April of this year. Members of that first-place team include current Waukon High School senior Nathan Helgerson and graduated seniors Danielle Stock, Makayla Manning and Gabrielle Marti, and that group topped teams from 83 chapters and 317 individuals that participated in the event which included testing on economic principles, records and analysis, and risk management, as well as solving a problem related to break-even analysis.

In addition to winning the overall Milk Quality & Products championship, the Lansing FFA Chapter at Kee High School also topped the field of teams in the event’s specialty areas of Knowledge Exam and Problem Solving. That overall top Lansing finish was headlined by the top-10 individual finishes of Stendel in fourth place and Stanley in eighth place.

The day’s worth of testing and activities during the September 8 CDE included testing on General Knowledge, such as milk production and marketing, as well as analyzing and interpreting from charts or graphs; Milk Defects, involving identification of any deficiencies in provided milk samples; Identification of Milk Products, involving identification of dairy versus non-dairy samples and cheese samples identified by appearance, taste and/or odor; California Mastitis Test, in which samples are analyzed for somatic cell or mastitis count, as well as evaluated for abnormality; and a Team Activity, which involved a milk pricing problem that involves the evaluation of milk components like somatic cell count, butterfat, protein, off flavor, milk titrations, antibiotic levels, milk handling, or other factors involved in the pricing of milk.

“The team members spent hours studying and preparing for this contest,” Rankin shared about his team’s preparation for the event. “They came in early before school and practiced all aspects of the contest. I went to a grocery store and purchased a variety of cheeses, milk, dairy and nondairy products. The team members tasted and identified the different products. They also studied a lot on their own.”

Group members say they were pleasantly surprised when their team name was called out as overall champion, but also felt a great sense of satisfaction knowing the amount of work they put into preparing for the event. “This accomplishment means a lot to our group because we spent a decent amount of time preparing for the contest, and we’re glad our efforts paid off,” the group shared in a collective statement. “We couldn’t have done it without our instructor, Ray Rankin, encouraging us to come in early to practice, buying different milks and cheeses for us, and believing in us the whole way. Our small chapter winning also shows that hard work and determination trumps numbers. We were totally shocked by the results.  We knew we put a lot of effort into the contest but didn’t think our small chapter would be State Champions and represent the State of Iowa at the National FFA Convention.   We hope our success will encourage other small chapters to work towards their goals.  Just because you have a small chapter doesn’t mean you don’t have the same opportunities as the larger ones to compete and succeed at these CDEs. National Convention, here we come!”

Anyone wanting to sponsor and help offset the cost of rooms, meals, registration fees, practice materials and other expenses in conjunction with the Lansing FFA chapter’s journey to the National FFA Convention is invited to contact Rankin at rrankin@kee.k12.ia.us or call the school at 563-538-4201 and ask to speak with him.

The Little Switzerland FFA chapter’s championship emergence was also fueled by top performances in various specialty areas, as the Waukon High School group was also named the top team in the Oral Reasons and Dairy Production and Management Test divisions of the overall competition. Howe finished as the top individual in the Oral Reasons competition on her way to finishing as the third-place overall individual placewinner, with Gibbs and Palmer also finishing within the top-10 individuals in seventh and eighth places, respectively.

Also broken down into a variety of tests and other activities, the September 8 Dairy Cattle Evaluation CDE provided a broad spectrum of experience, beginning with the evaluation of six classes of dairy cattle which ultimately culminated in each individual developing and presenting their own oral reasonings for their placement determinations. “Oral reasons require each member to explain why they placed the cattle in the class the way they did,” O’Connor explained. “Each member presented their reasons to one of the four judges that attended that day.”

A General Knowledge exam followed that involved 25 objective-type test items on dairy production and management practices, and dairy farming. Further testing involved questions regarding Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) records, analyzing herd management summaries for use in making management decisions; math equations evaluating dairy cattle feeding, management, milk production and marketing; sire summaries and pedigree data. Knowledge of pedigree materials was also tested in placing four pedigrees, with information provided for the sire evaluation portion of the contest including information on one cow and four bulls. Participants then chose the best sire and placed the class based on the data and given scenario. Finally, contestants were given a scenario that required them to choose which cows they would cull based on data and the scenario.

“The dairy cattle evaluation team first began practicing mid-July; it was specifically during the Allamakee County Fair so they could start looking at a variety of cattle,” O’Connor noted. “From that point on, they worked once to twice a week evaluating cattle at various local dairy farms. Not only would they evaluate the cattle, they would also work on presenting oral reasons. They worked with local coaches Aaron Palmer, Lars Sivesind and Dan Sivesind. As the event got closer, the team began preparing for the written test with me and would do this as a team one to two times a week. Individual team members would come in before or after school, if time would allow, to also study if their personal schedule allowed. Aaron also helped the team learn how to read Dairy Herd Improvement Association records and Sire Summary Evaluations to prepare for the event.”

Faith Palmer used her own experience to share the excitement and satisfaction felt by team members in bringing home this year’s top team honor for the Little Switzerland FFA chapter. “Dairy cattle have been a part of my life forever and have always been something I feel passionate about,” she said. “Working with team members who all have the same passion and drive as I do is wonderful and something I was excited about from the beginning. Winning the state championship for dairy cattle evaluation has been a dream come true. We have seen past teams win at the state level and go to compete at national convention, and knew that we wanted to follow in their footsteps. In doing this FFA career development event, I have learned so much and have grown as a person. This has been such an amazing experience! We worked hard and receiving that State Champion plaque showed that all our hard work really paid off. We want to send a huge thank you to Ms. O’Connor for helping us to achieve our goal. Also, thank you to the community for your support!”

Although the glory of top honors at any level is certainly something every individual or team strives for, both O’Connor and Rankin agree that far more comes from competing in these Career Development Events (CDEs) than trophies, plaques and ribbons.

“The primary goal of these contests or career development events is to develop individual college and career readiness skills,” O’Connor explained. “Regardless of the contest that a student participates in, each contest challenges students to develop critical thinking skills, decision-making skills, time management skills, foster teamwork and promote communication. These are all skills that students learn and develop now through their participation in this contest but will be skills that they will use for the remainder of their lives. While our students may have an interest in the dairy industry, we recognize that not all of them have goals of remaining in the industry. The subject area is the catalyst that hooks students to the contest. It is not until sometime later in life that an FFA member understands the larger impact their participation in a contest has had on their life. In addition, members have the potential to develop an extensive networking circle with industry leaders, other FFA members, teachers and community members. The experience they have representing the community, chapter and state at the national level is certainly one that they will not forget. They will also be looked up to by younger members of the chapter and have paved the way for the next group of FFA members to win a state championship.”

Rankin concurred, saying, “If a student is serious about these CDEs, they can always take them to the next level. A lot of colleges have a variety of judging teams at the collegiate level. I truly believe it could open the door for future employment as well. This is the main objective of organizations like FFA and other programs that are in our high schools, to give students these opportunities to explore career interests and succeed or fail in a safe place and figure out what they want to do once they finish high school.”

Continuing that far-reaching impact beyond the individual students, each FFA advisor also realizes how the impact of such success can reap even further benefits.

“FFA is something new to our school at Eastern Allamakee, I think this is only our fifth or sixth year of having FFA at our school and I am just starting my fourth year here,” Rankin explained. “I think students are still figuring out what FFA is all about.  This definitely has gotten the program some attention, and hopefully more students understand that FFA just isn’t about farming. There are so many opportunities for students to explore in FFA. Students get out of it what they want to put into it. We are a really small chapter with only 15 current active members on our roster. When I first started we would attend a few of these CDEs just to experience them and now the students have the attitude that they want to win them. Our first year competing in this CDE the team placed ninth, last year’s team placed fifth, and this year’s team placed first. I have a great bunch of kids in our chapter right now that are setting the standard for future members. I am excited to see where this group of members takes our chapter. This is definitely a great start.”

Even though there have been similar levels of success in both O’Connor’s tenure at Waukon High School and with the Little Switzerland FFA chapter overall, O’Connor says each one seems to be a new inspiration.

“Having a team win a state championship is always a fun and exciting experience for the school, our community and our chapter,” she said. “Since starting my teaching career in Waukon in 2011, this has been our fourth state championship, but the chapter has a rich history of state championships thanks to Nate Gebel, who was the FFA advisor before me. When he would talk about the students who had won, his passion and excitement rubbed off on me and I knew I wanted to keep that traditional alive. As other members observe teams reach achievements such as a state championship, it makes members want to achieve the same thing, if not more. I often have students mention how they want to have their picture up in the classroom for winning a state championship, so it definitely motivates students to work towards the same potential.”

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