Local dairy-farm youth advance to national competition

NEW?ULM – If you don’t know why you shouldn’t vaccinate cows for grubs during the winter, you can always ask Isabella Portner.

“It has a reverse effect on the foreign proteins on the cow’s body,” Isabella, 12, said.

Isabella, 14 and her sister Sabrina, 16; and Bethany Seifert, 15, all of Sleepy Eye; and Russell Hoffman, 16, of New Ulm are members of the Brown County Senior Dairy Knowledge Bowl Team.

Think of a geography or math team it’s the same concept. Teams compete by answering questions asked by judges that are specific to the dairy industry.

Questions cover dairy cow background information, feed and feeding, herd health, udder health, milking and milk quality, breeding and genetics of dairy animals, calf raising and dairy-food knowledge.

It’s the information this team knows about dairy farming and dairy policies that recently afforded them a trip to the North American Invitational 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl to be held in Louisville, Ky., in November.

The team worked hard to get the opportunity to take a trip like this, because it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience..

“As a team member, you can only go to the National Competition once,” Isabella said.

The team must prepare to compete against similar dairy teams from all over the United States.

Those preparations don’t concern the team all that much; they will continue to study the information they have access to.

Sabrina isn’t too concerned with gathering all that information.

“You learn a lot of it growing up on the farm, but you have to study too.” Sabrina said. “There is a lot of studying.”

“We put a lot of time in reading the books and taking sample quizzes for practice,” said Russell.

Isabella, a self-professed science guru, enjoys putting her Knowledge Bowl studies and her work together as she helps out on the family’s 230-cow Brown Swiss dairy.

“I like learning about all of it,” said Isabella, “and then using it on the farm.”

All of the current team members live and work on their family dairy farms. Bethany is the daughter of Steve and Barb Seifert and lives on 250-Holstein cow dairy farm. Russell is from New Ulm and helps milk 135 Holsteins and Jerseys. He is the son of Steve and Kerry. The Portner girls are the daughters of Tom and Mary.

Coached by Tom Portner and Barb Seifert, the team has worked together for more than six years. Most members have been on the Brown County Junior Team before moving up to the senior level.

“Sabrina and I have been on a team for eight years,” Bethany said. “Isabella and Russell have participated for six years. We had to convince Russell during a County Fair, to get involved.”

All team members agree there are many rewards to representing Brown County.

“I enjoy meeting all the new people from around the state,” Russell said, “and then we get to compete against them to see who is the better dairy farmer.”

The girls agree with Russell.

“It’s fun to compete with the things you live and work with every day,” Bethany said.

“I can use the knowledge at home and it also helps me when I compete in dairy-cow judging competitions,” said Sabrina. “As a Brown County Dairy Ambassador I know how to answer questions I receive from the public that are accurate.”

The team went undefeated against eight teams at the Regional Contest held in March in Redwood Falls. At the state competition they finished with a record of three wins and two losses.

They try to start each match, which involves buzzing in before your competition, with a mantra they started several years ago.

“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts!”

Coach Barb Seifert feels the team earned the trip.

“We are very proud of them,” Barb said. “They’ve come a long way. We practice every Sunday evening during the winter months, and it shows they worked hard every single week.”

Team members are excited to compete in Kentucky, where they will settle their jitters with their team chant.

As national competition time nears, the team will start fundraising because each member is responsible for his or her expenses incurred to take advantage of the trip.

Those interested in assisting with expenses should contact the Brown Count 4-H Program coordinator Alisa Mangen and the Brown County Extension Office in Sleepy Eye at ammangen@umn.edu or phone 507-794-7993.

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