MINOT, N.D. - When 4-H Achievement Days are held in Logan County, N.D., Sydney Kleingartner is in a class of her own: She's the only 4-Her in her county who shows dairy cattle.
So, for most of her show career, Sydney and her family have been taking their dairy cattle to shows in and out of state. Along the way, Sydney has made new friends and learned how to take responsibility for herself.
"It's just an amazing experience," she said. "I wish every kid could grow up the way I did, raising animals and just learning to be independent."
Sydney, 17, soon will begin her senior year at Gackle Streeter Public School. Early in the school year, she plans to make trips to the Minnesota State Fair and the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., to show, as she has for much of her adolescence.
The Kleingartners farm in the Gackle area. They raise beef cattle and sheep along with milking about 100 cows. They have registered animals from seven breeds: Ayrshire, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Red and White, and Holstein.
At the North Dakota State Fair in July, Sydney and her mother, Sue, brought five animals to show, representing the Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, Brown Swiss and Red and White breeds. Sydney showed in the 4-H show, the FFA show and the open show, and Sue competed in the open show.
"It gets to be a long week," Sydney said.
Just like back in Logan County, the Kleingartners found themselves in a class all their own; no one else was showing Ayrshires. Most people at the show bring Holsteins, so their cattle can look and act a little different. On July 23, another competitor asked Sydney if her Brown Swiss, Sophie, had something wrong with her leg. Sydney got to explain that the way Sophie kicked out her leg as she headed into a stall to be milked is "just how Brown Swiss walk."
The Kleingartners have been bringing animals to the North Dakota State Fair for years. The first year she took an animal to the Minnesota State Fair - Cinnabun, then a heifer - she did so well that others encouraged her family to go to the World Dairy Expo. They took five animals, receiving medals for placing in the top 10 with each of them.
"Since then we've been going back every year," she said.
But it's at the North Dakota State Fair where the Kleingartners are truly at home, knowing and supporting the other competitors.
"We're all family," she said.
Sydney's father and brother stayed at home from the State Fair to continue milking and feeding the rest of their animals. The realities of agriculture aren't lost on her, both in knowing her whole family can't be there and in recognizing the reasons why the dairy barn seemed a little emptier than other years. She anticipates fewer dairy entries at the Minnesota State Fair and World Dairy Expo, just like in Minot.
"It's been a tough year for just farming in general," she said. "It's not just in North Dakota."
Sydney encourages any youth interested in livestock to consider showing, whether by buying or leasing animals.
"It's a great experience, and I really don't think anyone would regret it," she said.