Lewis County Dairy Women Crown New Ambassador

Industry Representatives Hope to Educate the Public and Promote the Industry


The Lewis County Dairy Women (LCDW) crowned a new ambassador earlier this month. Brea Tracy, of Boistfort, was crowned on April 9 at Ramblin’ Jacks RibEye restaurant in Napavine.

Tracy is a sophomore at W.F. West High School in Chehalis and is a fifth generation dairy farmer, though she doesn’t live on a dairy farm. She is taking over from Brylee Yackley, who was crowned last July and is a senior at Onalaska High School where she will be graduating in June. Yackley has been showing dairy cows since she was 3 years old and has been living on a dairy farm for just as long.

Tracy’s crowning comes after two difficult years for the LCDW. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the organization’s ambassador program. In early March 2020, the LCDW crowned Hannah Ireton, of Glenoma. Ireton, who is currently in her first year at the University of Idaho, was only able to do a couple of events in her capacity as ambassador before the lockdown began. According to Marilyn Fenn, a member of the LCDW and chaperone for the ambassador program, the ambassador program then became inactive for over a year, until July of last year.

“Once we saw there were parades, we wanted to have an ambassador again to represent us,” said Fenn, who’s been involved in LCDW since the mid-1990s.

At that point, they began looking for someone to serve as ambassador and, after an expedited search and a meeting at the former location of Spiffy’s Restaurant, they landed on Yackley, who had a cousin who previously served as ambassador and another who served as alternate. That process differed sharply from before the pandemic. According to Fenn, there’s normally an application and an interview followed by a speech and impromptu questions.

“You have to have poise,” Fenn said, when describing the most important parts of being the LCDW ambassador.

Because the LCDW wanted to get their ambassador position on its regular cycle, where a new ambassador comes in around March or April, and Yackley was selected in July, Yackley and Tracy will be sharing ambassador responsibilities for the next couple of months, Fenn said.

Those responsibilities include a variety of activities.

“(I’ve enjoyed) parades and giving out ribbons to kids at fairs the most,” Yackley said.

Tracy said she’s looking forward to giving out ribbons to kids the most as well. But giving out ribbons at fairs and being in parades aren’t the only duties the LCDW and its ambassadors have.

The ambassador serves to advance the organization’s goals of promoting milk and dairy in Lewis County. Prior to the pandemic, ambassadors used to give speeches to civic organizations.

“It would be nice if girls could do that again. If groups were interested, we’d love to have them go do those again,” Fenn said.

The ambassador used to also assist at “kindergarten days,” according to Fenn. Over 700 kids would come to the 4-H building at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds on kindergarten days, which the LCDW put on for over 30 years until the pandemic. Fenn said that while kindergarten days haven’t been held since the start of the pandemic, they’re hoping to talk to school districts about restarting them in the future. According to Fenn, schools from across western Lewis County would come to the fairgrounds and learn about cows and the dairy industry, with the ambassador speaking to the kids.

Events like kindergarten days gave the LCDW ambassadors a chance to correct misconceptions regarding the dairy industry, which, according Yackley and Tracy, are plentiful.

According to Tracy and Yackley, one of the biggest misconceptions about the dairy industry is that farmers abuse their animals.

“I love all our animals. Whenever I go there, I love petting them,” Yackley said. “They have to be happy and healthy in order to be able to produce.”

Another misconception, Yackley said, is that calves are taken away from their mother straight away in order to maximize milk production.

“That’s not true,” she said. “Calves are put in a warm place to be checked for illness.”

There’s also a view by some that the dairy industry starves their cows. That view is apparently based on the fact that dairy cows are so much thinner than beef cows. But that, too, is incorrect.

“Dairy cows consume 55 pounds of total mixed rations (a mix of hay, grain and other food) versus 47 pounds for beef cows,” Yackley said.

Yackley said that while dairy cows may be thinner than beef cows, that isn’t because they consume less, but rather they are thinner because so much of their energy goes into producing milk that, despite consuming more food each day, they remain smaller than beef cows.

Some people also think that there are antibiotics in milk. But that’s also false, Yackley said.

According to Yackley, “There are no antibiotics in milk. If a cow has to be given a shot — and that’s only as a last resort — then the milk has to be separated. And if it gets in (and mixes with the rest of the milk), the whole tank has to be thrown out.”

And there’s a lot that goes into raising dairy cows.

“Cows go in a cycle,” Yackley said. “After having a calf, they have 10 months on and two months off to focus all their energy on growing the calf.”

The cows, who live eight to 10 years, are a calf for one year before becoming a yearling. They are bred and begin milking at two years. At that point, they follow the 10 months on, two months off cycle for the rest of their lives.

So what’s in store for the future of the dairy industry? Yackley said dairy farming is still a family industry as 94% of Washington dairy farms are family owned. But the industry is shrinking as a result of decades of dairy farm closures and consolidation.

According to Fenn, there are currently about 20 dairy farmers in Lewis County. Twenty years ago, the number was almost double that, and 40 years ago there were about 130 dairy farmers in the county. The past few decades have seen many dairy farmers go out of business while many others retired or died and their children chose to sell the property.

Lots of dairies are also smaller now because of a lack of labor. But new technology may be changing that.

According to Yackley, automatic milkers are “the new thing in the dairy industry … Cows can just come and go as they want.”

They are incentivized by food the machine gives them and by the relief from discomfort the milking they receive provides them. These machines work by using electronic collars on each of the cows that monitor them for both recording when they come to be milked and their health.

As for what’s next for the dairy ambassadors, Yackely plans on attending Centralia College next year and studying education before transferring to a four-year university to get a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and become an agricultural science teacher.

Meanwhile, Tracy will still be in high school next year but hopes to attend Eastern Washington University where she wants to get a master’s degree and go into speech and language pathology. And for the LCDW, according to Fenn, its biggest goal is to maintain their ambassador program and continue educating the public about the dairy industry.