For four high school girls familiar with cows, the question seemed simple enough: What is the most important factor in breeding a heifer?
Body size, the Fayette County 4-H team responded.
Incorrect, the moderator responded. It’s weight.
Fearing the Iowa 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl title was about to slip away, the team challenged the moderator’s ruling. It proved a turning point in the contest. The girls’ answer was right and they were given a bonus question that put them on the road to Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2013 National 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl.
The national contest, held as part of the North American International Livestock Exposition, is the culmination of intensive study for youth who hope to go into agriculture -- maybe even into dairy farming. The top team from each of state’s quiz bowl is eligible to compete in Louisville. Iowa will mark National Dairy Month on Tuesday, June 17, when it crowns its winning team for the 2014 contest.
Fayette County 4-H is a mainstay in the Iowa competition. Diana Stewart has been the advisor to the dairy competitors for five to six years. Her predecessor spent a dozen years preparing teams of youth for the quiz bowl.
Diana says quiz bowl competitors have to be committed to learning about diseases, the latest treatment advice, government regulations, best breeding practices – anything and everything that will help them answer questions in 13 different dairy-related categories. In the two months leading up to competition, her competitors meet at least every weekend to test their knowledge.
“This is not simple memorization,” Diana said. “Here’s the question, here’s the answer.” Teams do best when they can apply their knowledge to real-world farming – perhaps open a refrigerator at home and see a vaccine they just read about or relate the scientific name for a disease to the common term used on the farm.
Last year’s winning team was comprised of three girls who live on dairy farms – Molly Schmitt, the captain; Katie Stewart, Diana’s daughter; and Mary Scott. Kelli Steinlage, like her three teammates, shows cows. The team had won the right to compete in Louisville two years ago, but couldn’t go because of a conflict. With two of the girls about to graduate from high school, last year was the final shot to compete as a team at nationals.
Their 2014 Iowa title was accompanied by a travel grant from FCSAmerica, and they made the most of it. They piled into a van driven by Diana’s husband, Matthew, and quizzed each other on the trip to Louisville. Once in Kentucky, they viewed the horses at Churchill Downs, went to a race and dined at the club featured in the movie “Secretariat.”
When it was contest time, the girls showed the depth of their knowledge. Kelli finished third in the written exam, the highest individual finish of any Iowa competitor at the National 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl. As a team, the girls earned honorable mention for fifth place. They set a high bar for future Iowa teams to aspire to. Just as importantly, they proved they have the determination and know-how to make a career in agriculture if they choose.
The Fayette County team at the National 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl included, from the left, Molly Schmitt, Mary Scott, Kelli Steinlage and Katie Stewart, who is seated next to mom and coach, Diana Stewart.