Kayla Leiding, Travis Troendle, Haely Leiding and Jared Troendle, members of the Lanesboro High School FFA Dairy Judging team received several plaques and ribbons from their win at a national dairy judging competition in Harrisburg, Penn.  Submitted Photo
Kayla Leiding, Travis Troendle, Haely Leiding and Jared Troendle, members of the Lanesboro High School FFA Dairy Judging team received several plaques and ribbons from their win at a national dairy judging competition in Harrisburg, Penn. Submitted Photo
"It was finally the moment we had all been waiting for," shared Haely Leiding. She, along with her twin sister, Kayla, and friends, Travis and Jared Troendle, voiced the sentiment all four members of the Lanesboro FFA Dairy Judging team felt when they won the state dairy judging title on April 29 at the Minnesota State FFA Convention. The moment had been a long-time coming for the team members who have been together for most of their lives.

The family business

Dairy judging, and the dairy industry as a whole, runs thickly through the blood of the Leiding and Troendle families. The Troendle's father, Pat, and both the Leiding girls' parents, Stacy and Todd, competed on the University of Minnesota Dairy Judging team in the late 1980s. The Troendle's mother, Chris, was Stacy's roommate. They all knew each other and were close friends.

Chris and Pat married and moved to Lanesboro. For a time, the two families were separated. When the Leiding family moved to rural Fountain in 1996, the bond between the two families, now with children, grew even stronger. The passion they both shared about the dairy industry flowed easily into raising their children.

"They live and breathe the dairy industry," explained Stacy. "That's what has been in my blood and it's the way we've brought them up."

She said their kids have shown cattle since they were two years old and they each started judging in 4-H by third grade. Skeptics may think the two families wanted to create a dairy judging powerhouse, what with all their experience and passion on the subject. However, that was never their intent.

"It's just the way it worked out," shared Stacy, saying their kids became interested in judging cattle on their own.

"We're just passionate about dairy judging," stated Haely. She, Kayla and Travis are completing their sophomore year at Lanesboro High School. Jared is finishing the eighth grade.

"You can tell in kids if they want to be there and they really enjoy it," Stacy said. She is the dairy judging team's main coach and has been helping the 4-H program since they moved here. She has been impressed with their dedication to detail and emphasis on hard work.

"They want to put what they are learning forward. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing them grow and develop," she shared. "It makes my job a lot easier and it's a big honor to work with kids like that."

It's not just Stacy, each parent has gotten involved with their progress.

"It's heartwarming to see they share the passion I have," said Pat, who is their assistant coach. Each parent has willingly shared their knowledge and connections to help the team. "All four of them have a support team around them," he added.

Every year, the families host the U of M Dairy Judging team and have them judge their herd. "They also help us to know which terms are good to know and the correct styles of presenting at competition," shared Kayla.

The college team has given the kids individuals to look up to as well as the yearly learning experience. The four of them judge their own herds for practice as well. Working together as two families has provided some obstacles, but has mostly helped everyone succeed.

Haely, Kayla and Travis are the best of friends because they've grown up doing many of the same activities, such as Dairy Quiz Bowl, 4-H and FFA. However, there is still some sibling rivalry that cannot be denied.

"The twins (Haely and Kayla) are always competing," laughed Stacy. "They are all happy to see when one succeeds, but the other makes sure they aren't far behind."

They've also had to handle having their parents as their coaches. "As a coach, sometimes you have to be more harsh," explained Pat. "They understand we do it because it will benefit them."

Stacy has been a volunteer at the county level for 4-H and FFA since they moved to Fountain and said she sees the benefit in helping her kids utilize their skills because she knows them better.

Travis agreed saying their coaches just want them to do their best. "We all have our days and we have our rivalries, but we all want to do really well as a team."

With the help they've received from family and the self-driven nature of each member, the team gradually built themselves into the success story they are today.

The team

Lanesboro FFA advisor Tim Willette said he remembered being informed by the parents about a special opportunity soon to be arriving at the high school. Having judged cattle each summer for the past six years, the Leidings and Troendles were set to make an impact in their first year.

"Each year we learned a little bit more," shared Travis explaining that becoming good at judging cattle takes several years of practice.

In FFA, dairy judging is a CDE (Career Development Event) competition where each member of a team ranks the members of the herd based on either physically seeing the cow or comparing statistics on a DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) report. These judgments are then compared with those of the competition judge and points are earned based on how closely the rankings match up. Also, each member must provide a set of reasons why they ranked the herd the way they did. This is scored as well.

Knowledge of appropriate technical terminology usage, knowing what to look for in a cow, good speaking abilities and a little luck all play into the score. These and many other skills are what the team has been improving since day one.

"We've gone from reading our reasons to presenting them memorized. We've added more difficult terms and more detail in our reasons," shared Haely. "We've picked up a lot along the way."

Their involvement in dairy judging in both 4-H and FFA, as well as the Dairy Quiz Bowl, has given the team a lot of background knowledge in addition to what they learn from their parents.

"We help each other out," said Kayla, adding that it has been nice to have four members on their team. Jared was unable to begin attending FFA regional competitions until a rule change this year allowed eighth graders to compete. With consistent high performances out of each member, the team has been on a roll since last year.

After placing second to their rivals Caledonia at the state convention in 2012, the dairy judging team was invited out to a national competition held in Harrisburg, Penn., on Sept. 17, 2012. It was an experience that was shared between both families.

"Being on a farm, you can't take the time off," shared Stacy, adding that it was a great opportunity to strengthen family bonds as well as a welcome vacation. Both the Leiding and Troendle parents were able to see their kids perform their best on a national level; Haely, Kayla, and Travis all scored in the top five for individuals and the team won first by 135 points. In other words, it wasn't even close.

"It was a good refresher practice in a different atmosphere," shared Haely. The kids appreciated the victory, but they all had their sights on the state championship. They all recognized Caledonia as their main competition.

In the regional competition needed to qualify for state, Lanesboro came in a close second once again. "Our region is the most competitive and there are a lot of qualified teams," shared Kayla. "Sometimes, it just depends on the day."

Second place was good enough for a second trip to the state convention.

State convention: redemption

The dairy judging contest began at 8 a.m. on April 29. After a team activity, each member had to place nine classes of cattle and give two sets of reasons. After the competition, they received the official placing of the classes.

"We knew ahead of time that we had done well," recalled Kayla. How well they did was anyone's guess. Travis said the classes had been more difficult this year than last year. In the evening, the team received notice that they had placed in the top five and Kayla was in the top three for individuals. They would need to wait until the next day at the awards ceremony to see if they had indeed won.

Under the bright lights in Mariucci Arena, the five top dairy judging teams assembled to find out their fate. Teams were announced in descending order of placement.

As if by script, Caledonia and Lanesboro were the last two teams left standing. "We were all really consistent, so we figured it would be close," said Haely.

Even so, after sticking through competition after competition since third grade, after dealing with close defeats and huge victories, and while becoming even both a family and a team through it all, they held their breath as Caledonia's team was called for second place.

"Kayla and I looked at each other and just smiled, but inside we were screaming," laughed Haely.

Though they are friends with the Caledonia team members, the team admitted it was really good to beat them. "It was our turn to win," said Kayla.

After stepping down from the stage, the team was surprised by their parents, advisors and members of the school administration, who had received word the night before about their victory. "I called them the night before and said, 'Hey, I've got some good news for you,'" shared Willette.

Superintendant Jeff Boggs and Principal Brent Clarke made it up to the awards ceremony. "It's very important to share these moments to help them see what is happening with these kids," shared Willette. "It shows that this is really important to the kids."

Stacy said it also showed that the kids gain skills in leadership, speaking, and time management through participating in FFA.

Speaking about their win, Stacy added, "This is why we've worked so hard with them. They deserved what they got." What they got was a win by 38 points with all members placing in the top 25, and Kayla placing third out of 220 competitors.

Their assistant advisor Kristi Ruen said, "I was surprised, but also not really. I knew they could do it."

Now that they have won at state, the team will be unable to compete in the same CDE in future years. Because of their focus on Nationals, the team hasn't thought seriously about what else they would like to do in FFA. "It will be nice to try new things," said Travis, who will be a regional assistant officer next year. Haely will be the chapter president and Kayla will be the chapter secretary next year.

"The sky is the limit with them," expressed Willette. "We are fortunate to have them as FFA members. They are excellent examples."

As friends outside of the class and chapter, the kids are even more grateful to have each other. "We depend on each other in FFA and also in life," shared Haely.

Whether its homework help or just needing someone to talk too, there has been a friendship forged between the two families that means a lot more than just competing. "I think we would have been done a long time ago if we were just in it for the prizes," Haely remarked.

They consider each other brothers and sisters and sometimes refer to the other parents as Father and Mother. This familial unity is what has kept them so strong and helped them become even stronger. Those relationships will continue beyond the national competition.

The team will head to Louisville, Ky., in late October to get ready for the competition, which will include more than just dairy judging. The team will be required to prepare and present a talk on dairy herd nutrition in a short amount of time as well as answer questions.

Their summer 4-H judging schedule will include taking lessons from Pat, who is a dairy cattle consultant and knows a lot about herd nutrition. The judging portion of the competition will also be more difficult.

"It's nice to see they have the drive and desire to continue forward in this project," Pat said. "They have the potential of being one of the best teams I've seen in a while."

Hard work and an eagerness to learn about the dairy industry are shared by Travis, Haely, Jared and Kayla and will determine their FFA futures and careers. What are more important to them are the experiences they have had in building what Pat calls, "a big happy dairy family."

In that family, they will be able to continue writing their story and living toward the moments they have been waiting for.