Jerseys are this FFA student’s jam. How growing up on an organic dairy farm feeds into that.

By Sarah Sakurazawa and Rowan Westwood

Feb. 10, 2023

This story was written as part of an agriculture-reporting internship with the Whatcom County Dairy Women supported by a grant from the Dairy Farmers of Washington.

Sitting on a straw bale outside the Henry Jansen Ag Center at the 2022 Northwest Washington Fair, Lynden High School junior Kai Wolfisberg talks about the benefits of rotational grazing, what it’s like to be the youngest of five brothers working on their family farm, and his years competing in 4-H and FFA. After feeding calves as a kid, he’s a die-hard Jersey devotee: “They light up a lot more when they hear noises and stuff than a Holstein or the other breeds. Their curiosity — you can just see it in their eyes.”

· Name: Kai Wolfisberg

· Age: 18

· Hometown: Lynden

· School: Lynden High School

· Year in school: Senior in fall 2022

· FFA chapter: Lynden High School

‘The dairy I grew up on’: Wolfisberg and his four older brothers were raised on a 60-acre farm with around 170 cows along the Nooksack River. “We learned how to work on a dairy, then we did 4-H through the Barnyard Kids 4-H Club. They taught us how to show cows and prep cows for showing.”

Flower power: Wolfisberg’s father, Hans, immigrated from Switzerland in 1995. The family farm, Edelweiss Dairy, is named after the Swiss national flower. 

Breeding grounds: “We have Jerseys mixed with Norwegian Reds.”

Jersey guy: “I like Jerseys because they’re smaller, a pretty efficient breed. So while Holsteins milk more than a Jersey, Jerseys will eat less and they also have a lot better butterfat.”

Pretty easy choice’: “My dad went organic mainly because he wanted to rotationally graze. Now he sells to Organic Valley because you are required to graze and not use spray and he was doing all that anyways.” 

Brainy bovines: When Wolfisberg was younger, he says, he struggled at times to control his cows in the show ring. “Jerseys are the smartest breed,” in his opinion. “They know they can overpower you. They’re a lot more reactive, which can make it harder to train them.”

Not a walk in the park: Sometimes while showing, “the judge will have you switch animals to see how you do. That’s probably one of the most difficult things because you have to learn to lead a new animal.” 

‘Every animal is different’: “The main thing is figuring out each cow. When you’re training a cow, a lot of times you can see norms throughout breeds, but you don’t really see similarities across the board.”

‘Stay cool’: “Sometimes animals act up and you just have to get the show done. The cow’s only going to get worse, especially if you overreact. So you just have to stay calm because they can sense when your heart rate goes up. So stay cool is the first thing. Then the second thing is start changing tactics. Try different holds on the halter to see if it settles them down. If it doesn’t, you’ve just got to get through and wrap it up.”   

Unforgiven: “The reason you’re really calm with animals is because if you ever take your anger out on the animal they’ll never forget that.”

A pretty tough situation’: “When I was a bit younger, I had a heifer that was pretty hyper and not very good on the halter. She kept wanting to run out of the ring. I lost my cool and it was a learning moment of you can never get too antsy, because otherwise it’ll just get worse and worse. Eventually, it was bad enough that the judge had to stand there and block the animal.

“It was a good learning experience though.” 

Advice for a fair newbie: “If it’s your first time at the fair, don’t show a full-grown milking cow, show a smaller heifer.

“And it’s fairly simple to learn the basics of showing. It’s once you get into senior classes that you get pretty nitpicky about showing.”

Tool tip: “Make sure that you know someone with a good set of clippers so you can clip your animal with the right clippers. This year I saw a girl brought a cow or a heifer and didn’t have the correct clippers. So it looked like a pretty bad clip job. But that’s okay because it’s her first year so she’s learning.”