Princess Kay of the Milky Way

Fmn princesskay
By Sirrina Martinez

Katelyn Welgraven, of rural Pipestone County, will be competing for the 2024 title of Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Growing up on the dairy farm started by her grandfather, Welgraven, who is the daughter of Keith and Jeanna Welgraven, never expected to make it this far.
"I wanted to compete last year but I couldn't because I had a play that I was in the same weekend as the May event," she said. "I was never fully sure if I was going to compete in it, but this year I knew I really wanted to. So we went to the May event and I prepped everything. I never had my hopes up too high because I'm not really great at giving speeches in my opinion. So when it was announced that I was a finalist, I started crying because I was so happy. I just couldn't believe I was a finalist for Princess Kay. It was just something I figured I'd go back again and compete next year, but now I have this incredible opportunity to work with this amazing group of girls and to get to know them better and have a great time."
To qualify for the event that took place in May in Minneapolis, Welgraven needed to be a current Dairy Princess in her own county. Once she met that qualification, she was able to choose to either fully compete, practice or go for the session in Minneapolis. At that event, she said, contestants went through three rounds of judging that include a mock media interview, a speech that they were given a topic to plan on in advance and a professional interview. Contestants were then scored and finalists were selected.
This is Welgraven's third year holding the title of Dairy Princess for Pipestone County, and she has held this title since she was about 17-years-old, she said. She has also held the title of ambassador for multiple years. This year, the title of ambassador went to JordynBre Schulze, 12, of Holland.
Like other Dairy Princesses, Welgraven has spent time in her community educating and promoting the dairy industry by attending parades, community ice cream socials, dairy-based story reading for children and other educational activities. One of her favorite activities is attending parades and sharing information with her community.
"We go around to parades and get our cheese that is donated by Babybel and it's amazing," she said. "People have started to recognize that that's what we throw, and they'll immediately get up, all the adults, the kids, even the older people will get up and stand by their chairs ready to catch cheese  and they get excited. That's the best thing to see at a parade."
Welgraven, who is set to start her sophomore year at the University of South Dakota, is currently pursuing a degree in elementary education and a minor in deaf education. Her hope, she said, is to work in a smaller school.
"I'm not exactly sure which grade I want to teach yet," she said. "For my minor, that is something that I've always been interested in. When I found out our university had it I wanted to add it as a minor and we will just see where life takes me with that. Even if I just get an opportunity to teach sign language in school."
Being out in the community promoting the industry is a great experience, she said. "It's just a nice way to get dairy out there and then have conversations with everybody that comes," she said. "We've had people come up to us and say 'I was a former Dairy Princess,' and you have little kids learn about the dairy industry at such a young age and get the right information right away."
In July, Welgraven will attend another event that prepares finalists for the competition and the coronation event on August 21, the evening before the start of the state fair. If crowned Princess Kay, Welgraven will travel to various counties in the state, visiting classrooms, county fairs and the next Minnesota State Fair.
Having the chance to compete has been an amazing experience for Welgraven.
"I absolutely love it and I never thought I would get this opportunity," she said. "It never crossed my mind that I would get this far. When I was younger my dad asked if I would ever want to be the dairy princess and I would say 'No dad, I'm not a princess.' As I got older and I started doing it, I loved it. I was never sure if I would compete for Princess Kay but I did and I got to be a finalist and I still can't believe it."

Ehlers, Milbrath see success as dairy handlers

Fmn dairyhandlers
The FFA dairy cattle handlers activity is unlike any other.
MacKenzie Ehlers and Shelby Milbrath of the Heron Lake Okabena FFA Chapter know that firsthand.
The two took part in the activity at the region level in early April and both qualified for state-level competition later that month.
Through participation in the dairy cattle handlers activity, students learn to work with others in a way that is cooperative, courteous and helpful, while demonstrating effective dairy handling skills.
Students in this activity present animals for evaluation as part of the dairy cattle management and evaluation career development event. Handlers earn recognition for their ability to set up their assigned animal to its best advantage, maintain the animal in its most advantageous post, exhibit effective restraint and move the animal as requested by the event ringmaster.
As Ehlers and Milbrath discovered, the keys to success in this activity are poise, calmness and a positive attitude.

Keeping the old ways alive: Branding with the Jones family

Fmn branding cattle
By Sirrina Martinez

Every spring, the family of Alan and Kelly Jones gathers together at their rural Pipestone County farm with friends and area 4-H kids to carry on the approximately 20-year-long tradition of branding cattle. The Jones' have approximately 100 head that they work with, in addition to helping a family friend in the Flandreau area who still practices the tradition and showed them how to do it, Al said.
"A good friend of mine Craig Severtson from Flandreau has done it for years," he said. "He invited me to watch and now we go up to Clear Lake and Flandreau and do about 500 head for them. We just got into it and we liked it."
Branding is a custom that has been around for thousands of years. According to The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, hot iron branding of cattle as a form of owner identification was first recorded in Egyptian tombs in 2700 B.C. In the Western Hemisphere of the world, the first recorded brands were in the shape of the Three Latin Crosses of Herman Cortez who landed in Mexico in the year 1519. The practice is considered a common form of permanent identification for cattle, and is practiced world-wide. However, locally, the Jones family is one of very few cattle ranchers that still brand their livestock today.
For the Jones family, their yearly tradition is an all day event that starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon with a meal. Kelly brings food and refreshments out for lunch while the crew works to process the cattle as quickly as possible. Almost everyone shows up wearing a blue t-shirt in honor of Tanya Fey, the daughter of Al and Kelly who passed away in 2021 as the result of a horse accident. The group typically includes 20-30 people, many of them young 4-H kids who have never watched the practice. Some of the kids appear surprised when witnessing it for the first time, Jones said.
"Oh it's big eyes," he said. "They've never seen it before."
Although the family has seven pastures that they typically move their portable pen to every year, this year they are going to do their branding in one pasture before releasing the cattle to the other six, Jones said.
"We're trying something different this year," he said. "We go to seven pastures so we have to set up seven different times and that's a lot of work. So now we are going to do it all at our home pasture once, and then next weekend we will haul the cows and calves to the pastures."
Typically, there are three people on horse back in the pen roping the calves and dragging them to two lines where helpers are waiting to throw a north fork over the calves' head and stretch them out, brand them, castrate the male calves and give all of them necessary shots including a tetanus shot.
"I usually let two to three people at a time otherwise it gets to be too much," he said. "We have two lines that we drag to. You heel the calf and someone comes through and throws a north fork on their head and it's hooked to a tire. You pull it tight and you spin your horse and the calf is right there. Sometimes they miss with that and then the rodeo's on trying to catch it."
The entire process takes about five minutes per calf, Jones said. After they are done being branded, the cattle will be watched for about a week to make sure they are healing up properly before they are taken out to the other pastures.
"We watch them for about a week," he said. "After you brand them there is some stress on them and stuff and that way we can watch them a little closer and then we can haul them off."
Having his family, and especially his grandchildren, participate in the family tradition is pleasing, Jones said.
"We just enjoy doing it," he said. "I have my grandkids be the first ones to go in. It's great to just see everybody there. It's a great day.

Getting cattle show ready
Lots of behind-the-scenes advance work precedes fair-time laurels

Fmn cattleshow
By Taryn Lessman

Reese Anderson knows what it's like to spend the summer at the fairgrounds.
Between the Jackson County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair, over the past several years, the Jackson high school student has racked up a number of hours showing cattle.
Last year at the Jackson County Fair, Anderson exhibited the champion 4-H breeding heifer. She placed fifth at the Minnesota State Fair's 4-H beef show.
Being involved with livestock in 4-H is a family tradition for Anderson, who said her siblings also showed and also enjoyed success at both the county fair and the state fair.
The process of getting cattle show ready starts long before the fair, Anderson said. In the spring, show cattle need to be put on the right diet and start getting trained to be used to the show process.
First, the cattle need to get used to the person showing them and to get used to the environment they are in, Anderson said. Then, they need to be halter broken. Halter breaking is a multi-step process Anderson said includes teaching the calves how to walk on the halter, how to stand when haltered and how to behave during a show. In order to teach the calves how to behave during shows, Anderson leads them and teaches them how to stand correctly.
Anderson said it is important to spend time daily practicing with the cattle so they can build trust and get used to the routine.

Maker's Way Fiber Mill

Fmn fibermill
By Sirrina Martinez

Since 2021, the Maker's Way Fiber Mill in Brandon, S.D. has been serving the tri-state area and beyond, processing fiber from a variety of animals, including alpaca, llama and sheep. Some of their customer orders come from as far as Georgia, California, Montana and Idaho. Elizabeth Davelaar, who co-owns the mill with her mother and sister, Kari Davelaar and Erin Van Nieuwenhuyzen, said that the idea to start the mill came from a personal need to find a way to process her own materials.
"We started the mill because I couldn't find any local yarn in the area that I could use with the plants I was foraging and using for dye," she said. "This led me to a mill in North Dakota and I went to intern for a day. From there, I got my mom, Kari and my sister, Erin, involved. We purchased the equipment online through Facebook Marketplace and officially opened the mill in October of 2021."
The inspiration for the mill's name, Davelaar said, came from a two-fold idea.
"First, we do about 60% custom processing for people," she said. "We love to work with people to create the products that they can use or sell themselves. We make it the 'makers way.' The second part is that we are all Christians, and we believe in using natural fibers and honoring God in how we operate and make our products."
Around 60% of the mill's processing efforts consists of custom processing for farmers, and the remaining 40% of processing is done for the creation of the mill's own products to sell, Davelaar said.
At a high level view, processing animal fibers has a few steps. First, farmers will shear their animal, remove any fecal matter and vegetation that is stuck to the fiber and then send it to the mill. There, it is washed in hot water with a scouring detergent before being air dried. From there, it goes through a picker and carder, which opens up the fiber and brushes it into a more usable product. Next, all the fibers are combed into the same direction, Davelaar said, when it is run through a pin drafter. Finally, the fiber is spun into single threads and those threads are then plied into yarn.
The biggest factors that the mill looks for to identify quality wool or fiber for processing into yarn is staple length, Davelaar said. The staple length needs to be 3.5" or more. Other signs of quality fiber are a lack of "weak spots" in the fiber, and how fine it is. There are many factors, but these are the three biggest.
There are a few things that customers should consider before bringing their fiber to the mill, Davelaar said.
"We recommend that fiber is skirted well before it is brought to us," she said. "This means that all manure and vegetation is removed. Not only will this save customers money in the long run, but it also makes the best products. A good rule of thumb is if you don't want it in your finished fiber, don't send it to the mill. We do our best with every fleece we are sent, but our equipment won't get all of the vegetation out of the fiber."
Farmers who are interested in sending their products to the Way Maker's Fiber Mill should keep in mind that their lead time for processing can run eight months to a year, which is standard for the industry, Davelaar said. At this time they are only accepting a small number of new clients for the upcoming year.
Aside from selling their own processed yarn, the mill sells a variety of items on their website including knit hats, felted insoles, dried marigolds for natural product dying, felt coasters, eco-friendly dryer balls, bird nest starters and more.

For Chapman-Nesseth, showing sheep a family tradition

Fmn showingsheep
By Taryn Lessman

For Sylvia Chapman-Nesseth, it was only natural to get involved with showing sheep.
Her dad showed sheep as a kid, and her grandpa and uncle raise sheep.
And with 10 years of showing under her belt and a lengthy list of awards, including several purple ribbons at county fairs and the Minnesota State Fair — as well as a ninth-place finish out of 500 at the Aksarben Stock Show in Nebraska — Chapman-Nesseth is following in her family’s footsteps.
Chapman-Nesseth said the preparation for show season starts long before the summer shows. January is when sheep are purchased, and April is when she starts working with the sheep.
"Once April rolls around, the first thing we do is halter break them, which is just teaching them how to lead on a halter," she said.
The sheep exercise on a treadmill every day and are walked as practice for shows.
Throughout the process of getting sheep show-ready, and during the show season, the sheep have "protective leg wraps on their leg wool," Chapman-Nesseth said. The leg wraps get changed once per week and the leg wool gets washed, blow dried and conditioned weekly.
In addition to caring for the leg wool, Chapman-Nesseth said the sheep are sheared monthly and before shows.
"On show days, sheep get a fullbody wash and are blow dried," she said. "Conditioners are applied all over and leg wool is brushed out and set with a special hairspray for sheep."
Chapman-Nesseth said the biggest challenge she faces with her sheep is their stubbornness, which makes it difficult to teach them new things. However, she gets to spend time with her dad throughout the process, which is her favorite part.

The season of planting is upon us

Fmn planting
Sirrina Martinez
Multimedia reporter

With spring beginning March 19, area producers are preparing to begin another season of planting. An unusual winter may leave many inside and outside of the industry wondering what the season will bring.
Devin Hulstein, a certified crop advisor with Beck’s Hybrids in southwest Minnesota, said that some farmers may begin planting soon to try out March beans and that, if the weather holds for the first week of April, there may be a lot of planters moving in the fields.
One common misunderstanding, Hulstein said, is that planting before the insurance date on April 11 will put a farmer at risk for losing insurance on that crop.
"You only lose the replant part of your policy," he said. "Your coverage stays the same. I also like to remember we live in Minnesota and the weather can always change quick. I don’t think any farmer would be opposed to a wetter second half of March."
The drought and warm winter the area has experienced could potentially bring a few troubles for the upcoming seasons, Hulstein said.
"If the topsoil stays dry even germination can be a problem," he said. "A seed needs to take up roughly half its weight in water to germ and get the ball rolling. The other matter is root worm. Root worm has been an increasing concern the last couple of years."
The weather can help with this issue in a couple of ways, Hulstein said. When water sits in the spring or fall it can kill some root worm eggs, this is something we haven’t had recently. On the other hand, a deep frost can do the job as well, he said.
"I usually say if people are starting to get nervous about water pipes freezing you can count on decreasing the root worm population," he said. "That’s another issue (deep frost) that we haven’t had the last two years. I recommend using a planter-based insecticide if possible."
In drought conditions, selecting the right variety of seed hybrid is key, Hulstein said.
"Corn can handle drought pretty well as long as it gets a few timely rains," he said. "A couple in early season and then a nice rain around tassel, usually middle of July or so, and then one during grain fill is key. Soybeans are pretty tough and resilient as well. August always makes or breaks soybeans. They can be the nicest looking soybeans you’ve ever seen, but a dry August will ruin them."
The opposite is also true, Hulstein said. Beans can be dry and shorter through June and July and looking tougher, but an August with ample rain can set and fill a large amount of pods.
There are some seed hybrids that are more drought tolerant than others, Hulstein said, including a seed from Corteva called Aquamax, and another from Bayer called Droughtgard. Although seed dealers are perhaps seeing a little more attraction towards them and sales increasing, that doesn’t mean they are the right choice for everyone.
"The number one thing is still the right hybrid for the right farm," he said. "And the highest drought tolerance score is not always that hybrid."
In terms of changes and trends the seed world has seen over the last few years, the newer germplasm and genetics being used today have "wowed a lot of people," he said.
"The amount of heat and lack of rainfall we’ve had three years in a row now and been raising decent crops for the most part yet has surprised a lot of farmers each year I think," Hulstein said.
His advice for producers going into planting season, he said, is that it is always easier to do it right the first time.
"I always like to see 24 full hours of nice temperatures to get that seed started," Hulstein said. "So if there is a cold snow or rain coming and you are questioning to go start that next field, if the snow or rain is 24 hours away or more go for it. If it might start when you finished the field, come back to that field when it is fit again."