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Program jumpstarts youth cowherds

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

James Foss, 14, is a participant in the 2020-21 Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE) Merit Heifer Program. The purpose of the NILE Merit Heifer Program is to provide youth with a beef cattle project to get a start in the business. The program awards heifer calves to participants chosen on the basis of merit, future goals and ability to care for the animal. 

Foss has grown up on a cow/calf operation near Buffalo. There, he runs five producing cows of his own with his parents’ operation, plus Tilly, the heifer he received last fall through the NILE Merit Heifer Program.  

Hands-on learning 

Foss became involved when his mom saw a post about the program on social media. Then, he completed the application process, which includes filling out an application form along with making a video showcasing goals for the future with the heifer, a facility tour and current 4-H or FFA projects.  

Once selected for the program, Foss received his heifer from his donors, Powder River Angus in Arvada. While caring for Tilly, Foss completes a record book each month during the yearlong program. 

“The record book has seven to eight questions every month,” he said. “Some are pretty simple and others are harder. The record book provides background knowledge on the donated heifer, which provides a lot for me to learn from. One of the harder questions dealt with understanding hormone development in my heifer.” 

Foss shared, gaining knowledge and having a greater understanding of cattle production will be helpful to him, especially as he works towards growing his herd. 

“This is a cow that is going to produce calves for a long time, not just a show heifer,” he says. “It’s valuable to have an animal like her; to make an income in the future.” 

Production decisions 

Foss noted he has enjoyed the program, and has many favorite parts of his project. 

“A couple of my favorite things about the program are getting to spend time with my heifer and looking at her pedigree,” he continues. “My dad usually picks what we do with my other heifers, but with her, it’s all my decision. This makes it a lot of fun.” 

In the future, Foss plans on keeping his heifer’s future bull calves to breed to his producing cows, alongside keeping heifers as replacements.  

Through this entire process, Foss owns Tilly jointly with the NILE. Before Foss gets to keep the heifer, he has to take her back to the NILE this fall and show her as a bred replacement heifer.   

After a positive ultrasound, completing the final record books and showing Tilly as a bred heifer, the program is completed and the heifer will be signed off on as Foss’ to keep.   

Heifer program 

Foss strongly encourages youth to apply for the program. In fact, he believes everyone interested in raising cattle should fill out an application and get started on their own beef cattle herd.    

He shared, “It’s a great learning experience and helps youth build their cowherds along with learning more about the beef industry. Plus, it is extremely fun.”  

The deadline to apply for the NILE Merit Heifer Program is June 30, 2021 by 4 p.m. Any 4-H or FFA members between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age may apply.  

Cameron Magee is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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