In October 2019, an Amery FFA team captured third in dairy judging competition at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, earning the right to tour Europe and compete on an international scale the following summer. Fundraising for the trip began in earnest, with financial support pouring in from throughout the local community and beyond.
Then, the pandemic happened. The two-week educational experience was postponed not only in 2020 but again in 2021.
Finally, earlier this summer, Amery FFA members Hailey Clausen and Courtney Glenna, along with chaperone Heidi Clausen, were able to participate in the International Dairy Judging Tour of Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and London coordinated by Agrotours. Two other members of the Amery FFA team – Katherine Elwood and Ella Williamson – were unable to make the trip.
“This trip was truly unforgettable,” Glenna said. “From experiencing different cultures and learning about history to being educated in farming and agriculture in various countries and the connections, friendships and memories made, this was such an impactful opportunity that I'm incredibly grateful for. I learned so much in those two weeks, and I’m extremely thankful for the support we received and organizations that make opportunities like these possible.”
“We all had such a great time traveling around the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and are incredibly grateful to our coaches and community for making this trip possible,” Clausen said. “The landscape of Scotland and Ireland was gorgeous, and this gave us the unique opportunity to tour many agricultural operations and meet local farmers. We know that this was truly once-in-a-lifetime experience and are so excited to share memories with friends, family and the community.’
The Amery team, representing Wisconsin FFA, traveled with a contingent of top FFA, 4-H and collegiate dairy and livestock evaluation teams from across the U.S., departing from Minneapolis on June 22 and touching down in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they were met by tour manager Bruce Kane of Madison. They began their tour with visits to the Scottish Museum of Country Life and the fully automated Ve-Tech Holstein farm, where the farm owners’ primary business is concrete and dairying is secondary. Robotic milkers are utilized to save on labor.
Following a tour of historic Edinburgh -- where the group viewed the Old Town (area built before 1767) and the New Town (built after 1767), as well as the Royal Mile -- teams met at the 200th anniversary Royal Highland Show to get some pointers on dairy and livestock judging in preparation for the next day’s competition.
Clausen and Glenna, along with the other dairy teams, were tasked with “speed judging” four classes of Holstein and Ayrshire cows and presenting two sets of oral reasons for their placings. At the end of the day, the Amery FFA team placed third overall.
Day 4 included visiting the Kelpies, massive, steel equine structures built a decade ago in honor of Scotland’s mythical water creatures. The group also stopped by the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift – and walked the Old Course at the famous St. Andrews Links golf course, host of this year’s 150th anniversary British Open.
The next day included a tour of the HW Farms Angus beef operation, which spreads over 20,000 acres on which cattle graze and wheat, barley and oats are grown. The farm focuses on keeping inputs low and breeding for smaller cattle that don’t require a lot of upkeep. Next, the group visited Myremill Farm, which milks 600 Ayrshire and Holstein cows three times a day in relatively new facilities. Milk is sold to Nestle’ to go into chocolate “crumb.”
Steady rain greeted travelers the next day at Culzean Castle, a furnished castle perched upon a high cliff overlooking the Ayr coast. The apartment at the top of the castle was given to U.S. Army General Dwight Eisenhower in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Force in Europe during World War II. Eisenhower first visited the castle in 1946 and stayed there four times, once as President of the U.S. Later that day, the group boarded a ferry to cross the Irish Sea. They disembarked in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where they saw the shipyard in which the Titanic was constructed.
The group crossed into the Republic of Ireland the next day and headed for the area known as the “Golden Vale,” which has weather conditions perfectly suited to lush grasslands and successful dairying. They stopped by the Brochan Cocoman dairy, a third-generation farm where 120 Holstein cows are milked and graze evergreen hillside pastures. The group was treated to tea and scones on the lawn after their tour, then enjoyed a visit to the expansive Trinity College research library, which boasts a stock of almost 3 million volumes housed in eight buildings. They also viewed the Book of Kells, which contains a Latin text of the four gospels copied and decorated by Irish monks around 800 A.D. Capping off the day was a tour of Dublin’s historic Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1038.
A visit to the Hyland brothers’ dairy farm kicked off the next day. The grass-based operation includes 282 acres that support grazing for 330 cows. In total, the business milks 900 cows on four farms and uses New Zealand-style dairying principles including seasonal calving. Owner David Hyland said they think in terms of milk volume achieved per hectare and focus on cows that “stay in the system,” as replacement is costly.
Next, the group spent a morning at Kilkenny Mart, a cooperative livestock market that built a new facility in 2005. The Mart hosts sales three days a week in two rings. Along with the auction activity, this business hosts about 25 vendor enterprises, including an event center, restaurant and shops, over more than 20 acres. The day ended with a stop by the Seamus Holland dairy farm, a low-cost, extensive grazing operation milking 220 cows and calving seasonally.
The final few days in Ireland were spent touring the scenic Ring of Kerry and Blarney Castle and Gardens in the Cork area. The tour group also visited a fourth-generation farm making the transition from beef cattle to dairy cattle because of the outlook for better financial returns. The father-and-son owners recently installed a new 50-cow rotary parlor and are working up to 300 cows from their current 150.
The group closed out their time in Ireland by judging both dairy and beef cattle classes in a lighthearted, impromptu competition at the Clonmel Agricultural Show before flying out of Shannon into London for 1-1/2 days of sight-seeing in the city. The Amery group spent their time shopping Covent Garden, viewing paintings in the National Gallery and catching a showing of “Grease” at the Dominion Theatre. They arrived home July 6.
Although it was delayed for two years, Clausen and Glenna agree that the trip was well worth the wait. They thank the many individuals and businesses who helped sponsor them, as well as coaches Gwen Dado and Patti Hurtgen and Amery FFA advisor Derrick Meyer.