The author farms with her husband and his parents at Ryan-Vu Holsteins, an 80-cow dairy in Fond du Lac, Wis
Pictured are previous Merle Howard award winners along with the 2018 Merle Howard recipient. From L to R, Kyle Barton, Tom Morris (award sponsor), Robert Teixeira, Matthew Mitchell, Greta Koebel, Brandon Ferry, Kelly Lee Reynolds, Kyle Natzke, Stephanie Aves, Karen Johnson, Cy Conard, Cassy Krull, Jade Krushke, Doug Boop, and Dawson Nickels.

Merle Howard was a pioneer in the dairy industry, whose commitment to developing outstanding cow families and fostering youth development throughout the industry can be seen in many of the lives that he touched.

To honor Howard’s great contribution in the industry and dedication to youth, an award named in his honor is presented to the top Junior exhibitor at World Dairy Expo each year. The award is sponsored by Tom and Sandy Morris of Amery, Wis. Receiving this award has not only been an honor for the Merle Howard Award recipients, it has served as an inspiration for them to stay involved in the industry. In the Round Table below, California’s Robert Teixeira, the inaugural winner in 2004, the 2007 winner, Wisconsin’s Brandon Ferry, and the 2011 winner, Karen Johnson from Minnesota, share the stories of how winning this award cemented their positions in the dairy industry.

Describe your youth experiences leading up to winning this award.

Teixeira: I was very involved in many youth activities, including 4-H, FFA, the California Holstein Association, and the Holstein Association USA. I judged in FFA and was on the 2000 National Champion Dairy Judging Team that went on to judge at the world competition in Scotland where we placed second. I also received the National FFA Dairy Entrepreneurship Award in 2003. I won Senior Showmanship at Expo in 1999 along with numerous other accolades in my Junior career.

Ferry: I was involved in 4-H, FFA, Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association, and Fond du Lac County Junior Holstein. I also participated in dairy judging through 4-H, FFA, and our county team, and exhibited animals on a local, state, and national level.

My fitting career began under the guidance of Chad Ryan. As I gained more experience clipping cattle, I was asked to work at the Great Northern Sales Arena, where I currently still help with sales. Working at the Great Northern has given me several connections and enabled me to become a full-time fitter, traveling throughout the country.

Johnson: Throughout my youth, I was very active in my local 4-H club and further expanded my involvement in the dairy project through judging and quiz bowl. I started judging at a young age and over time, improved my placings and speaking abilities. I had passionate coaches that taught me to refine my skills for my judging career.

Their guidance helped me to win three national contests, namely the 2006 4-H division at the All-American Invitational Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in Harrisburg, Penn., the 2009 National 4-H Dairy Judging Contest at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., and the 2010 Collegiate Judging Contest at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

I enjoyed showing our registered Guernseys from my family’s 50-cow herd in Lester Prairie, Minn., at the county, state, and national levels. My parents gave me the opportunity to try different things like clipping and getting our cattle ready at various shows.

Involvement in the Minnesota and American Guernsey Association during my youth and in the Gopher Dairy Club and Beta of Clovia during my time at the University of Minnesota have also aided in my personal and professional development.

What are some of the most important things you learned from youth showing?

Teixeira: The most important thing I learned in my Junior showing days was the value of hard work and dedication. With those two things, the sky is the limit!

Ferry: Hard work and respect are two of the big ones. If you’re a self-motivated individual, and always show people respect, it won’t go unnoticed. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the most knowledgeable and talented people in the dairy industry. Working with these people taught me so much about the care of cattle. Everything from grooming and feeding to the care of a sick animal.

Johnson: I was very shy, and my parents encouraged me to have faith in myself and develop confidence in many areas, including cattle preparation and dairy judging. Practice really does make perfect. The more you clip and judge, the more you refine your skills. Finally, be willing to invest in yourself by taking the time to further develop your talents.

What did winning this award mean to you?

Teixeira: Winning this award was a true honor for me! It was an incredible privilege to win the inaugural award in honor of the great Merle Howard. He had a true passion for youth and their future in this great industry that we are part of today.

Ferry: Winning the Merle Howard Award meant a great deal to me, especially looking back at it now. Several very accomplished individuals have received this award, so to be a part of this group is certainly an honor. It was also an honor to be selected by some of the top individuals throughout the dairy industry to receive the award.

Johnson: I was completely shocked and honored to win this award. To be honest, being a Guernsey breeder, I didn’t know much about it, but now looking back, I am even more honored to receive it.

Every year when the new winner is recognized and our group of previous winners stand in the ring again, it reminds me to continue to build what I’ve started in the dairy industry and to inspire the next generation of producers.

What is your current profession?

Teixeira: I am still very much involved in the industry. Currently, I live in Turlock, Calif., with my wife, Kate, and our four children on our family farm, Gil-Tex Holsteins. We continue to be involved in all aspects of the showring, and look forward to bringing our kids up in the same environment that we were blessed to be raised in.

Ferry: Currently, my wife, Shianne, and I own and operate Fer-Crest Farms with our two children Bryleigh and Ryker. We milk 70 registered Holsteins and Jerseys with a 111.8 Breed Age Average (BAA). We enjoy exhibiting our own cattle as well as managing a tie-in group of cattle with Luke Lensmire at numerous shows throughout the year. I also work various sales throughout the U.S.

Johnson: I work as an extension educator with the University of Minnesota Extension where I cover McLeod and Meeker Counties. I work to develop educational programs for farmers and gardeners with an emphasis in the areas of dairy production and women in agriculture. My husband, Beau, and I continue to help on my family dairy farm, Up the Creek Farm, a 50-cow registered Guernsey herd run by my parents, David and Donna, and brother, Kevin, in Lester Prairie, Minn.

What impact do you feel winning this award had on your future in the dairy industry?

Teixeira: For me, it was seeing all the time, hard work, and dedication I had put into something really paid off. You can achieve great things with those values. I continue to use them today and look forward to passing them on to our children and other young people striving to be successful in this business.

Ferry: Receiving all the guidance and support I got throughout my Junior career made me want to help young individuals. Shianne and I have helped coach and still host 4-H and FFA judging practices. We are always willing to give any advice and guidance we can to youth showmen.

Johnson: I had a good start in this industry and want to give others the same opportunity. Now, I coach the local dairy judging team and judge local shows in the area.

What advice do you have for today’s youth?

Teixeira: Set goals and always work toward them. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything. Never be afraid to ask questions or advice from the people you look up to.

Ferry: Be respectful, both in and out of the showring. Never be afraid of hard work. I have found that people are always watching and talking. If you want the chance to work with elite cattle and well-known show strings, don’t be afraid to be the one to pick up the pitchfork.

Johnson: Try to find a mentor to work with and ask them a lot of questions along the way; if possible, have that mentor be someone outside your family.

For instance, if you are interested in showing but don’t have the cattle or experience to get to the next level, find someone who can help you get there. There are many opportunities in the industry, and I encourage youth to follow their passion and jump into what they like. Find your passion in the industry and run with it.