Growing up on a cattle farm in Fillmore, Lacey Knodle has been around animals her entire life, and although her college career has taken her from the family farm, it hasn't taken her from the animals she's become so passionate about.
After graduating from Nokomis High School in 2015, the daughter of Todd and Amy Knodle spent two years at Lake Land College in Mattoon, where she joined their livestock judging team.
Knodle was a natural fit on the livestock judging team, having grown up showing cattle with her very first show at the Montgomery County 4-H Park in Butler.
"My family has quite the cow herd," Knodle said proudly. "I really had a big interest in the cow/calf operation, and I've always enjoyed working with cattle."
During her seventh grade year in Nokomis, she started to do some livestock judging with the Nokomis FFA chapter. She would later join the Montgomery County livestock judging team her junior and senior years where she got her first experiences with the oral reasoning portion of the competition.
When she arrived at Lake Land College, Knodle said she quickly became heavily involved with their livestock judging team for two years, traveling all over the country to places like Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Kentucky to name a few. As a sophomore, she won a competition in Mississippi, and also had some success at a meet in Denver, CO.
And from her experiences at Lake Land College, she was recruited to be part of the livestock judging team at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. Knodle said it was definitely a big change going to a bigger school and a bigger class size, but she also had some really great experiences with the livestock judging team.
"The livestock judging team there was so much more advanced," Knodle said. "My other teammates came from different backgrounds with a lot of ideas. I really learned a lot."
Knodle said her team had 15 members, and that she would compete as an individual at the livestock judging contest, but at the end of the day, scores are tallied together for a team competition as well.
For a typical competition, Knodle said she wakes up around 4 a.m. for an "all-day marathon of judging." Team members are required to wear professional judging clothes. The contests usually start around 7 or 8 a.m., and the morning includes judging 12 classes of animals. They have to take careful notes while judging, as they have to provide oral reasoning in eight of those classes in the afternoon. Typically, Knodle said the majority of the livestock classes are cattle, in addition to a few on swine and a few on sheep and goats.
"I really had to learn a ton about hogs and sheep," Knodle said. "Some of the basics are the same, but there was a lot to learn in the details."
In addition to livestock judging competitions, Knodle has put her skills to good use helping to judge county fairs.
"You kind of get the chance to feel what it's like on the other side," she said. "There's a lot of pressure, but I try to remember that everyone has a different opinion, and that's okay."
This past year, Knodle and her team competed in ten different livestock judging contests all over the Midwest, giving her the chance to see different parts of the nation.
"I've been very grateful for the chance to travel at a cheap cost," she said. "We had to buy our meals, but the school provided for our hotels and gas."
Knodle said her favorite part of being a member of the livestock judging team was the skills that it has given her, like leadership, team work and dealing with challenges.
"I've learned how to step out of my comfort zone and become a well-rounded public speaker," she said.
Knodle gives special thanks to her livestock judging coaches for giving her these experiences and helping her to build her skills. At Lake Land College, she was coached by Ryan Orrick and Jordan Rauch, and at Iowa State University, she was coached by Dr. Chris Cassady.
"I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for them," she said.
As she prepares to graduate from ISU this May, Knodle said she will miss being part of the livestock judging team and being around the animals every day.
She has already accepted a job at Hormel in Rochelle, where she will be an associate production supervisor. Knodle also hopes to continue to use the skills she's learned on the livestock judging team to strengthen her family's cattle herd back home, about three and a half hours from her new job. She also hopes to be a county livestock judge when she can, and help strengthen the next generation of farmers.
"I would just encourage everyone in our community to get involved with agriculture as much as possible," she said. "Go support the kids who are showing. Ask lots of questions. They put in a lot of hard work to show their animals. Just be an advocate for agriculture. It's so important."
Knodle said she feels blessed to have been part of such a successful livestock judging team in college, and said that's one of the biggest things that helped her get through school.
"Get out there and dream big," she said. "There's a great big world out there."