Haely Leiding, left, and Kayla Leiding pose for a senior picture with their prized show cows.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Haely Leiding, left, and Kayla Leiding pose for a senior picture with their prized show cows. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Twin sisters Haely Leiding and Kayla Leiding of Fountain were crowned together as Fillmore County Dairy Princesses this year. It’s a role that will see them promoting the importance of dairy products through appearances and media activities.

The first-hand experience of the young women raising, caring for, showing and judging dairy cattle means it’s a message they can readily share. They know what’s involved. They know why a person should eat dairy products for nutritional needs. Additionally, they’ve been promoting dairy since serving with a group of Fillmore County Dairy Ambassadors around their third and fourth grade years.

These recent Lanesboro High School graduates can cite dairy barn experiences going all the way back to stroller days. Haely said they went to the barn all the time in their double stroller.

“Mom would have toys for us to play with,” she stated.

Kayla added, “We’ve always been on the farm.”

Their parents are Todd and Stacy (Fingerson) Leiding. “My dad grew up here,” Stacy said about their farm. “Todd and I moved in after my grandparents died.”

The family farms 360 acres. They mostly raise crops used to feed their cattle, such as corn, beans and alfalfa. They milk around 85 cows in their registered Holstein herd. They use a tie stall operation, where the milker is moved from cow to cow. Each cow stays in its own stanchion as opposed to a milking parlor, where cows are moved to the milking platform positions.

The Leidings sell their milk to AMPI in Rochester. AMPI also sponsored Kayla and Haely for the Fillmore County Dairy Princess contest.

“The family is heavily involved in showing,” explained Stacy.

She recalled her parents, Tillman and Shirley Fingerson, started buying registered Holsteins. They still live in one of the two homes on the farm. They also like to stay involved and still help out.

As for the twins, at the age of 6 months they were in the stroller in the barn.

As they got a little older they’d play with cats and baby calves, Haely said, along with jumping around on hay bales.

One of their first chores, Kayla noted, was scraping the stalls. Mom Stacy added that adult- and kid-sized scrapers are available. And so the girls got acquainted at a young age with the process of manure removal.

Kayla said they were around 4 or 5 and “it was our favorite job.”

Other chores down the road included bottle feeding calves and, still later, carrying the milk to older calves after they were moved to huts.

Now they can do “pretty much anything,” according to Haely. Kayla gave some examples – animal care, milking, bedding, vaccinations and paperwork.

Showing and judging

The twins started showing the registered Holsteins at an early age. For example, Stacy dug out a photo of them in the former Republican-Leader newspaper where the girls, at age 2, were showing together at the Fillmore County Fair in 1999.

They joined 4-H as second graders and started showing 4-H calves when eligible in third grade.

Haely said the cows could have been shown before then, but someone else would have been required to lead them. The twins smiled and said they really wanted to lead their own calves, so they waited. They also were entered in the open dairy show in the novice category. In 2002, they each got a heifer to show.

“We could lead our own. It was a big deal,” said Haely.

The little Leiding twins looked adorable showing cattle. Each year until they were 5 or 6, their grandmother (Todd’s mother) made them matching outfits from a white-and-black spotted, Holstein-patterned fabric. She also sewed the girls’ names into the specific outfit for each to avoid any confusion.

They’ve been showing at the Minnesota State Fair since sixth grade, at which point a youth is eligible to go. Haely said, “We’ve each had a champion or reserve (champion) at the fair.”

That leads to an obvious question. How are the show cows divvied up between the twins?

Kayla said, “Every other year we trade off on who gets what we think best.” Although she noted the cow selected and thought to be the best for showing is not always the one that does best.

Haely said she and Kayla also sometimes try to keep family dairy lines intact in their selections. One of the first 4-H heifers shown is considered their “foundation herd animal.”

In seventh grade they joined FFA at Lanesboro. FFA limits showing at the state fair until a student is going into ninth grade. Of course they showed when reaching that point. They’ve also shown cattle for FFA at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester when it doesn’t conflict with other shows.

After showing dairy cattle for so long and with educational training, the girls have a good idea how the cows are judged – and they’re good at it.

They’ve joined dairy judging teams and had great success. Their team placed second at the FFA National Convention in 2013. Kayla went with the team to judge and participate in the Royal Highland Show in Scotland. (Haely did not attend because she’d already committed to a school band trip.)

The Scotland judging team consisted of Kayla, brothers Travis Troendle and Jared Troendle, and Abby Hopp from Chatfield. Abby had judged with their team in the past, so was selected to fill in for Haely.

That show in Scotland was a major event, according to Kayla, “and a really new experience.”

She further explained the cows there were Friesian-Holsteins that look more like a commercial Holstein cow with a smaller, thicker stature.

“They’re not show cows. It’s not wrong; they’re just different. I had never seen one (until then),” Kayla added.

The dairy judging team also had participated in the 2013 World Dairy Judging Expo for 4-H, placing fourth. Jared was missing from that team and Abby had filled in. Kayla pointed out they also have judged at national Holstein contests.

Both Haely and Kayla have earned numerous other honors in 4-H and FFA. In the latter, they obtained their State Degrees this spring, the highest honor at the state level for FFA.

June Dairy and beyond

The Leiding twins have been – and will be – all over Fillmore County in June promoting dairy products. Haely said they appeared at a farm safety camp held in Mabel for all Fillmore County fourth graders. They’ll appear at businesses, grocery stores and in parades as well.

Unfortunately, there’s a family wedding in Wisconsin on June 27, so Kayla and Haely will miss the Fillmore County “Dairy Night on the Farm” event on June 27.

Stacy said when the girls found out they were the same date, they were sorry they couldn’t attend Fillmore County’s top dairy promotion at Michael Redalen’s farm.

Kayla, however, made sure to note there are five younger Fillmore County Dairy Ambassadors and they will be on hand.

The twins share a goal of educating the public about dairy – how nutritious dairy products are, where they come from, and what life is like on a dairy farm.

“We’re telling our farm story. We make it personal,” stated Kayla.

Both she and Haely will attend the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities this fall. Haely is taking ag education classes. She wants to teach and be an FFA advisor. Kayla is taking classes in ag leadership and marketing, and wants to represent the industry. Both also are taking classes for a minor in animal science.

Haely said she hopes to be on the U of M dairy judging team in the future, which is open to juniors and seniors.

Clearly, the twins are expecting to be working in the dairy industry for the long haul. They know personally what’s involved and why dairy products are important.

Look for Haely and Kayla at dairy events and parades this summer. Enjoy hearing their stories. Take their dairy message to heart and support dairy producers when making food choices.