Cows and Cultivating Crops: How the Ag Program Changed my Life


Madelynn Orosz

Lily the Cow and Madelynn compete in novice showmanship at the Goshen Fair. Showing cattle is such a contrast compared to sports.

Madelynn Orosz, Reporter

SEYMOUR — “The Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience and Technology Center at Nonnewaug High School will have their open house next week for you to check it out,” said Bill Davenport, former director of the Woodbury FFA in October of 2019. 

Those words rang in the back of my mind all day. My friends thought I was crazy. “Maddie, becoming a farmer? No way,” they thought.

I always had a passion for animals ever since I could remember, and I knew that was something I always wanted to do. I got my turtle, Pretty, when I was 4 years old, which explains her name. I always enjoyed going to the zoo and loved any petting zoos I came across. I never truly had the time for much animal work, though.

However, my biggest passion when I was younger was always sports. My mom is the biggest supporter and the reason I’m so into sports. I’ve played other sports over the years like basketball, gymnastics, tennis, soccer, dance, and more because of her. My biggest two, swimming and softball, started in kindergarten and I haven’t stopped.

Having such an athletic childhood, I only really did sports and traveled for those sports. For example, my first trip to Lake George took place in the winter to play in the Adirondack Dome for softball.

This is all I knew until the spring of eighth grade.

“Congratulations, you have been offered a spot into the Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience and Technology Program for the fall of 2019” the letter read. I was ecstatic. I didn’t think it was real.

Fast forward to the fall, I had a culture shock. Woodbury is such a different town than Seymour. The people are different, the environment is different. I still can’t describe it but it certainly is different. I came into the school knowing the three other Seymour kids who got in and that was all. 

My first ag experiences felt like a dream come true. Marisa Bedron’s freshman animal science class taught me how to use a halter — something I only ever put on a toy horse. Her class taught me many other things as well, such as egg candling, horse grooming, and learning how to work with pigs. I was hooked from the start. 

Freshman year got cut off early due to COVID; I missed my future show cow’s first calving, piglet births, spring plant sale, FFA State Convention and more. I also missed my freshman year softball season. It was devastating. At a new school where athletics is a pretty major focus, I wanted to make a name for myself in my best sport, but I knew that everyone was also devastated by the opportunities that were taken away. 

That summer, I started working at my SAE [supervised agricultural experience] at Massaro Farm in Woodbridge. I learned firsthand how to work on a farm, manage a goat herd, and more. 

As part of her SAE, Madelynn is responsible for trimming hooves on the goats that live on the farm. Here she is trimming Pat the goat’s hooves, Pat the goat is the most stubborn out of them all. (Tom DiMarco)

Working in a field all day was different than any sports practice I ever had. The strength and endurance that goes into farming is a lot more than I expected and it helped me gain bigger appreciation to all farmers out in the country. 

Sophomore year was inconsistent due to the changing COVID protocols; I knew I had many things to look forward to. When in virtual learning, I knew I had my SAE to go to to work on the skills discussed in the Google Meets and I could work out in my basement if sports got canceled. 

I had a highly modified volleyball season. Swim season was shut down before it began and it made me sad that I wouldn’t have a swim season for the first time in 11 years. The swim team ended up with a five-week season and it was better than nothing. As the spring rolled around, things opened up and I finally got what I wanted: softball. 

At the same time, I saw a poster offering a Nonnewaug 4H club using the school’s animals. Eight-year-old me was screaming inside and I knew I could finally do something I always wanted to try; showing cows. I then realized the practices were going to be the same time as softball but I wanted to make it work. 

The first 4H practice was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I chose the cow with the Mickey Mouse-looking spot. Turns out her name was Lily and she would be a life-changer. She was never more than a learning tool for students, being used to teach how to handle cattle and perform basic medical procedures like taking temperature and heart rate. I didn’t know what I was doing and relied heavily on YouTube to learn. 

Balancing softball with the 4H club was hard especially as the varsity pitcher. I was new to the team, not having freshman year, and had to establish myself while missing part of practice once a week. I ended up finding a system of wearing my softball pants with my boots down to the pasture for 4H practice, then putting my cleats on and heading down to the softball field. 

Spring softball was a success and it felt so good to finally play high school softball. I was the batgirl a couple of times at Seymour High School’s softball games and always looked up to them. I wasn’t a Wildcat though; I was a Chief now. Being a Chief meant more than just sports, it meant being able to do more and succeed. 

During the summer of 2021, I did a lot of balancing. I worked about 32 hours a week at my SAE, with more responsibilities there including the 300 laying hens and more advanced farm tasks. I went to the 4H practices each week. I had about six hours of softball with my travel team, the Watertown Rapids and on top of that, pitching lessons once a week. I also balanced my social life with my friends back home in Seymour, who have stayed with me the entire journey. I also fed more into my rollercoaster addiction using my Six Flags season pass almost every week. 

At the end of the summer, the fair season began. It was my first time showing a cow, the cow’s first time in the ring, and a new environment for me. I have never been to a country fair before so it was very strange but I ended up loving it. 

Jennifer Jedd told me, “I’m going to turn you into a fair girl.”

And she did.

Lily (the cow) and I had a blast during the fairs. We learned so much from each other over the summer and it was finally time to show everyone that it is possible to succeed at something new. 

We placed third at novice showmanship at the Goshen Fair against very talented people; we also got second in the cow class and cow-calf class. We competed in the cattle obstacle course, which I knew wasn’t a normal athletic event because you had to move as fast as your cow, you were a team. We ended up getting second place with a time of 1:27. 

That first fair weekend, I left with the biggest smile on my face and had a great time. The following weekend at Bethlehem Fair, we got second place in novice showmanship, fourth in the cow class, and second in the dam and daughter class. 

The Watertown Rapids 16u showcase team poses with the plaque after winning the championship game. (Rapids 16U Showcase)

Showing cattle is harder than sports. You have to train not only yourself but your partner who doesn’t speak the same language as you. She goes “MOO” and I talk to her in English but what we communicated through were treats, scratches behind her ears, and praise. When your cow gets spooked, it is very difficult to control a 1,600-pound animal. When they don’t want to listen and you get stuck dragging them, that is also very challenging. 

The weekend after the Bethlehem Fair, my travel team played up a division in a tournament and we won 5 games in a row after losing the first one. I remember saying to myself, we just did that, but it didn’t feel as difficult. 

Sports are hard, hitting a 60 mph fastball from 43 feet away and then hoping it lands somewhere the other team can’t get it is a challenge. Swimming as fast as you can hoping to touch the wall faster than someone else without drowning is hard. 

However, so is training a cow to walk slowly and stand pretty in a show ring with lots of loud people running past. So is work out all day in a field when it’s 100 degrees and everyone else is sitting in their pools. So is caring for many animals where their health determines how many eggs the farm gets to feed people. 

The agriscience program has changed my life. It has put a new perspective into my eyes that I never thought I’d get to see. People have asked me which one I like better or how I manage it all. It’s simple, you can do both. I’ve made it work the past two summers and it has been the greatest experience of my life. 

I am a three-sport varsity athlete. I play travel softball for one of the top teams in Connecticut. I am a clarinet player in the NHS band. I am a cattle showman. I am a farmer. We exist, all thanks to Nonnewaug.