Garnavillo family is National-bound

TJ Wille, Garnavillo, will show his heifer, Amanda, at the Clayton County Fair.

Meet the Wille family:  Phil and Tonya, and their children Alexis, TJ, Jayce and Alyssa Wille. The Willes, who live on a farm just south of Garnavillo and milk approximately 50 head of cattle, are pretty familiar with the expectations and projects of 4-H. 

Members of the Garnavillo Hawks 4-H club, the Willes are busy preparing for the upcoming Clayton County Fair in National. Only two of the kids, Alexis and TJ, are old enough to be involved with 4H, but Jayce and little sister, Alyssa, are excited to reach fifth grade so they too can participate. 

It’s important to understand that 4-H isn’t just a program focused on taking projects to the local fair with the hopes of winning high honors and then heading to the state fair in Des Moines. 4-H helps youth develop leadership skills, assist with teaching responsibility and teamwork. The best description I’ve found of what 4-H does is on the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website. It states, “In 4-H youth develop healthy physical, social, and emotional behaviors and life skills. We develop community capacity to promote healthy environments and as a result increase the ability of youth to demonstrate positive contributions to their families, schools and communities.” 

Alexis is an incoming high school freshman and this is her fifth year in 4H. She is taking two heifers—Lucky and Orange—to the 2013 Clayton County Fair. Lucky got her name because she was born on 11/11/11. Alexis states, “It just made sense.” Orange was given her name because she has an orange color to her and Alyssa, the youngest Willie in this family, thought it was a name that suited her. 

Alexis’s 4H projects don’t stop with dairy cattle. She is also hoping to complete a wooden bench and submit a couple pieces of photography she has worked on. In the past five years, she has completed projects in photography and visual arts. She has entered a blanket and drawings from school. While this is her second year taking livestock, she has every intention of continuing on with 4H all the way through high school and becoming involved in FFA (Future Farmers of America)/ The National FFA Organization.   

Alexis became interested in 4H after she had attended the Clayton County Fair and saw people taking their livestock to be judged. She thought it would be fun to do the exact same. It seemed a natural fit for her: When asked to name the hardest part about living on the farm, she quickly replied that there is no hard part. “I love it out here,” she said.

This young lady is well prepared to take her heifers to fair. She knows that the judges look for even muscle in the front and rear, how cattle act, stand and walk with her, and cleanliness. Judges also look and base their opinions on how easy it will be for particular cows will give birth. A thoughtful evaluation of these factors lead Alexis to select Lucky and Orange to show at this year’s fair.

Alexis hopes to remain on the farm in the future. She has had experience of raising milking cattle, chickens, gardening, household and outdoor responsibilities and she loves every minute of it. She’s looking forward to the opportunity of raising swine in the near future.

TJ is also taking two heifers—Maddie and Amanda—to fair this year. Like Alexis, he is working on another 4H project. With help from his Uncle Andy, a welder who lives south of Garnavillo, TJ is going to work to complete a pig feeder. He has watched Andy make feeders for other customers and thought it would make a good entry. So with supervision and assistance, if necessary, TJ is going to work in Andy’s shop to complete this project with high hopes of bringing home a blue ribbon or possibly qualifying for the state fair.

TJ, who participated in the 2012 county fair with a heifer and bale mover, got involved in 4H when he saw how much fun Alexis and his friends were having as members of the club. He couldn’t wait for his opportunity to become a part of it as well. 

In his first year of 4H, he made a wooden bench. The judges liked it so well they wanted to send it to the state fair. Unfortunately, since it was his first year in 4H, TJ had to decline. First-year members don’t qualify for state fair opportunities. 

TJ also looks forward to future 4H opportunities and eventually FFA. He has also decided like his other uncles, he would like to be a truck driver who hauls livestock. 

The hardest part of farming for TJ is stubborn cattle and breakdowns. Currently, he’s spending time in the shop with his Grandpa fixing a broken head gasket on one of their tractors. TJ says, “Some days you go out to bale hay and everything works just fine. Then the next day you go and everything breaks down.”

Jayce isn’t quite old enough to join 4H but has every intention of joining as soon as he becomes eligible. This year he’s planning on taking a calf to the Kiddie Calf Show. In addition, he’s preparing for future 4H work in the chores he does on the farm. He helps by letting the cows out to pasture, feeding hay to the calves and watering them. He fills the water tank for the cows in the pasture and he also helps Grandpa and Dad in the shop when needed. While the rest of the family is milking, he helps Grandpa with mechanics. 

Even Alyssa, who is only five, has her share of responsibilities on the farm. She likes to help feed the calves. She goes with her dad to help move fences when necessary and she follows her sibling around learning everything she can. Alexis and TJ believe their little sister’s favorite part of farming is naming the calves when they are born. 

Alyssa would also like to take a calf to the Kiddie Calf Show at the fair this year. The older siblings are not sure if this is going to happen, but they are willing to Alexis and TJ have a lot of responsibilities living on the farm. While they are currently preparing their 4H projects, they still have other daily and weekly duties. They take turns milking and mowing the lawn, caring for their dog, Lilly, and they help as needed with indoor and outdoor chores. When the cows get out, it’s up to the entire family to get them back where they need to go.  

The Wille kids possess an indescribable passion for their farm. As I pulled in the yard, I was politely greeted. They gave detailed answers to every question I asked. They were excited to share their story with me and show me their projects. This is an interview I will remember for a very long time. Best of luck at fair, Alexis and TJ, and we look forward to hearing about Jayce and Alyssa’s experiences as well! 


By Angela Reed

Register Freelance Writer



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