Sunday, April 6, 2014

When Rice Lake Beat Montello in Chicken Judging

The Rice Lake (Wisconsin) Future Farmers of America program was a powerhouse among Wisconsin chapters in the late 1960s.  This was due in whole and in part to Donald Triebensee our teacher and chapter advisor.  Don was a great teacher and a great man on top of being a great inspiration to many.  He always strived for excellence in his students even when some of us (like me) were major league goof offs.

One of the things Don had us actively involved with was the various statewide judging contests.  We kicked ass and took no prisoners when it came to Meat Animal Judging (beef cattle, sheep, swine) (State Champions in 1968), and Dairy Cattle Judging (State Champions in 1968) on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. There was some other contest we won on the University of Wisconsin – River Falls campus. A couple years later it would have been a beer drinking contest but right now I can’t remember now what it was.  For some unexplained reason we simply could not get it when it came to Soil Judging (last place 1968, 1969) but give us a living breathing animal and we’d correctly judge it 99 times out of 99.

Forty five years ago this month, April 1969, just a few weeks before the Rice Lake Senior High School Class of 1969 was unleashed on an unsuspecting world (our unofficial class motto was “Booze, Broads, Butts, Wine – We’re the Class of Sixty NINE!”) the Wisconsin FFA association held its annual Poultry and Egg judging contest on the campus of the incomparable University of Wisconsin campus in Madison.  Rice Lake had participated in this judging contest in the past but had never fared well.  In those days Montello High School in Marquette County (north northeast of Madison) always won the Poultry and Egg contest – nobody ever came close. Still that did not dissuade Don Triebensee from putting together a team and giving it a shot.

The 1969 team was made up of three seniors and on Thursday before the contest the following Monday (four days earlier) it was determined that two of them could not make the trip (for whatever reason I cannot remember now).  That left one senior on the team and two others were desperately needed or Rice Lake would not field a team.

For whatever reason with just a couple days to go before the contest, Don Triebensee almost begged FFA Chapter President Dave Bollman and me to be on the team.  At the time about all I knew of chickens was that 1) everything tastes like them including chicken, 2) they get run over while trying to cross to the other side of a road, and 3) my mom could burn eggs while frying them almost as easily as she could burn everything else.  However Mr. Triebensee was desperate and I couldn’t turn him down so I said yes.  If nothing else we would get a free trip down to Madison where we could ogle college girls recently emerged from a winter of long pants, sweaters, and over coats as they sunned themselves on the shores of Lake Mendota. 

With little time and even less chance of winning, Mr. Triebensee gave us several books to read and said he had made arrangements with the Uchytil Egg Farm in Haugen to teach us what they could about chickens and eggs.  By this stage in our lives, we were far from proficient at feeling up girls in the Class of 1969 but that didn't stop us from wanting to learn how to feel up a chicken or how to candle an egg to determine its quality.  Uchytil’s had offered to give us that essential training and we were to be at the egg farm at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The three of us spent almost all day Saturday at Uchytil’s learning the ins and outs of chicken feeling up. 

Among other essentials we learned that if you could place three fingers in the space between the pubic bone of a chicken then they were in prime egg laying condition (life later taught us that it worked that way with human females also but we didn’t know that then).  If only one or two fingers fit in the pubic bone socket then she was not in good condition.

We learned how to tell the health of a chicken by feeling for its breast bone (another technique readily and eagerly transferable to the girls in the Class of 1969).  If the breast bone stuck out above the level of the breast meat then the chicken was undernourished and not in good condition.  However if you felt her breast and there was lots of flesh there and little bone then she was in great shape (I tried that technique later that night on a girl in our class and was amazed how similar were the results).

We also learned how to candle an egg.  Place an egg with the small end against a light source and judge how much air space existed in the end of the egg.  If there was very little airspace then the egg was fresh and of good quality.  If a lot of airspace was present then the egg and its quality were questionable and that egg would get a lower ranking.  We later tried to figure out how to transfer this bit of knowledge to the girls in the Class of 1969 but never made the connection.  However we were ready if the opportunity arose.

A candled egg showing the airspace

After spending a full day in a crash course in Chicken Feeling Up 101 at Uchytil’s farm in Haugen we returned home, milked cows, packed our bags and prepared ourselves for the four hour drive the next day down to Madison.

A trip to Madison was a major thing in those days.  A year previously, on the same weekend that Martin Luther King was assassinated, we were in Madison for the State Meat Animal judging contest.  The most memorable thing about that trip was watching Greg Rindsig, who was as skinny as a rail, wolf down 7 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, 4 packets of McDonald’s French fries, and 3 McDonald’s chocolate shakes in one setting in a Mickey D’s on US 151 on the east side of Madison.  Greg wasn’t with us in 1969 since he graduated the year before so we just relied on ogling college girls sunbathing on the lake shore.

Monday morning dawned crystal clear on the campus of the venerable University of Wisconsin (“Fuck em Bucky!”).  Mr Triebensee took us out to Camp Randall Stadium after breakfast just to look around.  Camp Randall is where the Badgers play football. It is the second most hallowed ground in the entire Cheesehead State – only Lambeau Field where the Packers play in Green Bay is held in higher reverence among Cheeseheads than is Camp Randall Stadium.

Bucky on the hallowed ground of Camp Randall Stadium

After an invigorating visit to the cathedral known as Camp Randall, and with one entire day of knowledge of chicken feeling up under our belts, we three intrepid seniors showed up on the College of Agriculture of the Madison campus where we did battle with the chicken goliath’s from Montello and 28 other high schools.  Team members were separated from each other and despite each participant feeling up the same chickens, no team members were allowed to be near the same chicken at the same time, ostensibly, I guess to reduce the chance for passing notes on chicken tits and their fullness to team members.  The same was true for the eggs we candled – we were in this alone. 

At the end of the contest the total scores for each team member were tallied and a cumulative score was awarded to each of the 30 teams involved in the contest.  As we waited for the judges to make their determinations we anticipated just how badly Montello had wiped the floor with us and everyone else.

However that was not the story today.  Nope.  When all the score cards were graded and all of the team numbers combined the Rice Lake FFA team had 2 more points than the perennial favorite Montello FFA team.  We beat the goliath of chicken feeling up. Not only were the Montello team players livid, their advisor/teacher was close to having a stroke.  Unable to believe his team had been defeated he demanded a recount during which it was determined that a mistake had been made. Rice Lake actually won by 3 points over Montello to become the undisputed Poultry feeling up and Egg judging champions of the Cheesehead state in 1969.

When we accepted the trophy later that afternoon we were told this was the first time in something like ten years that Montello did not win the contest.  A few minutes later we all piled into Don Triebensee’s car and sped north with the trophy in our hands.  To this day we never told Montello that they were beaten by three kids who didn’t know a chicken from a chinchilla three days earlier.