Donated heifers give youth start in cattle industry
Wheatland – It was nearly two years ago when 14-year-old Stephanie Klein learned about the NILE Merit Heifer Program. Since then, she has journeyed down a road leading to learning and a strong foundation in the cattle industry.
Klein, along with five other Wyoming youth, was awarded a heifer through the Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE) Merit Heifer Program in fall 2007. The students were among 60 entries vying for a chance at a donated animal and the start to their very own cattle herd. Twenty-five youth from several states are chosen as program recipients each year.
When she got the letter notifying her of her win, Klein said she was surprised. “You normally don’t get a heifer on the first try, so it was cool I got it,” she says. “I opened the letter really fast and called my mom; she screamed and started to cry on the phone.”
The whole family trekked from Wheatland to the home of donor Pine Coulee Angus north of Billings, Mont. Klein says she was able to pick her heifer from a pen of about 100 cattle.
“There were five I couldn’t pick but he didn’t tell me which ones,” Klein says. “I ended up picking one of them I couldn’t have and he said, ‘well I guess you can have it.’ That was pretty cool.”
NILE heifer recipients must bring their heifer back to show at the NILE in October. The program requires the heifers be bred and all records are complete at the show. The youth jointly own the animal with the NILE and will get the papers transferred into their names after meeting all qualifications. The recipients also get to keep the calf from their bred heifer.
Klein has been showing cattle in 4-H for five years and her show experience and the Merit Heifer Program has taught her lessons of responsibility, patience and hard work.
“It teaches about working hard; about getting somewhere and not having someone else do it for you,” Klein says.
Powell’s Sara Banning has found the program equally beneficial. The 17-year-old has used the program as an outlet for her love of animals and the show ring.
“I’m in love with animals and I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was four,” she says.
After applying for the program once and being turned down, Banning was convinced to reapply and the reward was a new heifer for her small herd of Angus cattle. She has been showing steers for four years and is showing three of her seven animals this year in 4-H and FFA.
The program has also fanned her passion for the show ring. Last year Banning won fourth place in showmanship at the Wyoming State Fair and she plans to keep showing through college and building her herd as a club calf operation.
“My dad says you can see the show ring is where I like to be,” she says. “My smile isn’t fake and plastered on, it’s real.”
Working with her cattle has also given her hands-on experience for her future career as a large-animal veterinarian. Banning says she hopes she can build her herd through college to raise money for school and to give her a good start after college.
“I’ve always liked ag and animals and this program is really beneficial to be able to experience new things,” she says. “I wouldn’t have enough money to buy this quality of a heifer and I’m thankful there are people out there who support the youth of today.”
The NILE Merit Heifer program helps young agriculturalists get their foot in the door of production agriculture, NILE Programs Administrator Teddi Vogel says.
“It’s difficult to start up in the cattle industry or any area of agriculture these days and without a little help, it’s almost impossible,” she says. “We provide these kids with a heifer and resources that aid them in building their own herd. It's our hope that these youth go on to expand their herd and become successful.”
The program is already seeing success stories in the growth of past participants, Vogel says.
“Some are very successful in the show ring and others have gone on to expand their herds and continue to build a strong foundation herd,” she says. “There also is a network of young producers who now have each other to bounce ideas off of, share experience's with and help us recruit new members.”
The 2008 deadline for the program is Sept. 15. Applications and more information are available at www.meritheifer.com/index.html or by calling 406-256-2495.
Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.