Niangua, Mo., teen earns State FFA award for her growing dairy herd
NIANGUA, MO. – At around the age of 3, Lila Wantland fell in love with showing dairy cattle, following in the footsteps of her older sisters.
Today, Lila is a recent graduate of Niangua High School, and her love for showing cattle continues. She is an accomplished handler at the halter, showing at county fairs and national shows.
“I love to show and the dairy industry,” Lila said. “It’s got great people, and I learn new things constantly. With showing, I have traveled to multiple states to show, and next fall, I will judge (with the Missouri 4-H Dairy team) at the World Dairy Expo.”
Lila’s parents, Jeff and LeeAnn Wantland, have been supportive of their daughters’ showing ventures but told them the work was on them; they were in charge. However, their support, Lila said, helped them improve their animals.
“We’ve come so far from when we first started,” Lila said. “We would go to Missouri Dairy Cow Camp, and when we got home, they would tell us to use what we learned. I like that they made us do it ourselves.”
Lila has always had an active and hands-on role in the Wantland farming operation, a grazing dairy near Niangua, Mo.
“Growing up like this teaches you a lot of responsibilities,” Lila explained. “You got to get here in the morning to get the cows milked, the calves fed and then do things in the middle, like fixing things or working in the fields if it’s haying season, then come back at night to do it all over again… It’s just what we have always done.”
The Wantlands have raised registered Holsteins for many years, but Lila wanted to add a little color to the herd.
“It started with a Guernsey a couple of years ago,” Lila said, adding that the Guernsey herd has increased since then. “Then we have incorporated some Brown Swiss from my brother-in-law, and I will lease one this year from him. Then we have some Jerseys, and I have some partnership animals with my sister (Ellie Melander) and another Jersey breeder. I’m pretty excited about the Jerseys; they have just taken off.”
The addition of the colored breeds has allowed Lila to delve into new pedigrees.
“The Holsteins are more advanced in that area,” she said. “When you get into Guernsey, you can be on your own a little. With the Holsteins, you can go in and pick just about any bull from the book and advance your herd, but with the Guernseys and other breeds, you have to look more at the pedigrees and the traits to see what you want. With Guernseys, one of their biggest problems is feet and legs, so you want to find a bull that will improve a heifer’s feet and legs and make her a little stronger in the front end. With the Jerseys, you can go back to some national champions. It’s pretty fun.”
The 18-year-old admitted she likes exploring the genetic side of dairy production.
“I think I was about 12 and came home from judging camp, opened up the Select Sires book, and I started reading it,” Lila said.
In addition to selecting the matings of her own females, Lila said she offers her opinion to her dad for his cattle.
“I told him the other day that we only breed certain cows out of this cane and not to use it,” she recalled with a laugh, adding that she likes the diversity that hand-selecting sires through AI gives herd.
Lila admires the breeding program of Ferme Jacobs, a Holstein operation in Quebec, Canada.
“If I could breed cattle like that every day, I would be happy,” Lila said with a laugh. “They have bred more than 100 excellent cows and have won multiple supreme championships.”
Lila retains most of her heifers for future breeding, but her family has also introduced a beef bull for added income by selling crossed calves.
While she has been in the dairy industry throughout her lifetime, Lila said is are always something new to learn, and many of the lessons come from her show family.
“You learn so much about the trends and the genetics,” Lila said.
Lila was recently honored with the Missouri FFA State Dairy Production Entrepreneurship Proficiency Award. The third-generation dairy producer touts a herd of about 35 cows and heifers.
“I looked down on the plaque, and I didn’t see that I was the winner,” Lila recalled of the Missouri State FFA Convention in April. “I thought it said, area winner. It’s hard to hear up there, and my sister (Katie Wantland) started pointing at me, saying, ‘It’s you! It’s you!’ I was very surprised.”
Lila’s application will now go to the national level.
“It will be kind of cool to compete against the others,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty exciting.”
Lila is also a member of 4-H and a member of the Missouri 4-H Dairy Judging Team, along with Whitney Yerina of Phillipsburg and Payton Nix of Mountain Grove. The team competes at various events, including the Missouri State Fair and the North American International Livestock Expo. The trio will compete at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., to determine if they will get an invitation to travel to Europe to compete in the International Youth Dairy Judging Tour.
“We will all have to be at the top of our game,” Lila said. “We have room to grow and some workshops to go through, but I think we have a good chance to place in the top three.”
Lila will attend Oklahoma State University and major in animal science in the fall, but she is unclear about her future goals.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet as far as a career. I want to come back to the family farm, but I don’t know how much longer we can hold out,” she said. “I want to stay in the industry, even if it’s just having 10 cows and housing them somewhere. I want to still take care of them, breed them and show them. I love the dairy industry, going to new places, meeting new people, and telling them about the industry and what we do; it’s very important, and I would like to stay in it.