Oldham works to impact youth in ag
Lander – Odessa Oldham was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona but has rich ties to Wyoming through her father, Dwayne, who is originally from Lander. When she was 13, her family moved to Fremont County.
In her early years, Odessa was very involved in agriculture organizations.
“I attended high school in Lander and participated in 4-H and FFA,” she says. “I was a state FFA officer and showed horses, cattle, sheep and pigs at the county fair.”
Following her year as a state FFA officer, Odessa was the first Federally recognized American Indian National FFA candidate from any state.
She continues, “Although I didn’t get into office, I was able to work with Dr. Larry Case and travel the U.S. promoting agriculture, Native American FFA members and diverse people.”
Shortly after graduating high school, Odessa continued her post-secondary education, studying agriculture communications at Casper College and continuing to the University of Wyoming. While at Casper College, she continued to be involved with ag, including participating on the livestock judging team and serving as a Casper College ambassador. Today, she continues to be involved as an active Casper College alumni member.
Native Youth Program
Odessa shares her involvement in youth agriculture and leadership organizations growing up were important to her and she has worked to give back to these organizations.
With service in mind, Odessa, began work on a program to provide agriculture and leadership to different demographics. She shares, “Not all reservations have 4-H or FFA programs.”
“I started the Native Youth Program with Janie Hipp, who formally worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Tom Vilsack,” she explains. “I wanted to be a part of the group that helped create a program that reaches all federally recognized Native American Tribes and Pacific Islanders.”
Since its inception, the program has been taken over by a non-profit organization, the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC), but the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit continues to educate and develop leadership skills in interested youth.
Odessa shares, those interested can find information on many social media outlets, including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and LinkdIn.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of individuals from Wyoming, but I’ve had students from Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and some around Wyoming,” says Odessa.
Today, Odessa spends much of her time on her family’s ranch, mentoring local FFA members, agriculture youth and coaching livestock judging teams.
When it comes to Wyoming, Odessa and her family have been influential in keeping the spirit of the West alive.
“My dad, Dwayne, does a lot with the Red Feather Program, which gives individuals a second chance,” says Odessa.
The family also stays busy with their ranch.
“We’re a family operation,” she shares. “My two brothers Jess and Jared, sister Aisha and parents Dwayne and Denise run about a 550 cow/calf operation.”
Odessa continues, “We mainly do commercial, but we have a small percentage we also do for 4-H and FFA members.”
She and her brothers are active in getting youth interested in agriculture, she shares, noting, “My brothers and I try to get more kids engaged and we try to become coaches and mentors to some of the Native American students that are involved in the Fremont County Fair.”
In addition to being a mentor, Odessa gives back by judging the Native American arts and crafts at the county fair.
The busy months are ahead of the Oldham family with winter right around the corner.
“Right now, we just got all of the cows off of the mountain and were getting them ready to come in and try to fatten them up before calving season,” she shares. “This winter, my days are probably going to look a little bit more chaotic. Between working and taking turns rotating night watches; weekends will be the busiest because our winters are pretty intense.”
The family stays very busy feeding all day, breaking ice and making sure the horses and cattle are drinking water.
“In the spring, the ranch work continues with fixing fence and making sure animals are where they need to be,” Odessa shares. “We do a lot of riding when we’re moving livestock. It’s a lot safer for us and our animals as well.”
Wild horse sanctuary
Wild horse management is also important to the Oldham family, shares Odessa.
“My dad and mom are the owners of the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary,” she says. “My dad started the paperwork in 2015.”
The family started with 33 wild horses in 2016 and now have about 223 wild horses.
Odessa continues, “My dad is a very old-fashioned cowboy, being born and raised in Wyoming. He always kind of has the idea of ‘If you’re going to complain about something, you’re going to have to be a part of the solution.’”
“The wild horse issue has kind of been an ongoing issue in not just Wyoming but in multiple states,” Odessa shares. “One way we can help is to not only educate others, but also try to provide a safe place for the horses because we believe there is a management issue and we need to do what we can to help.”
Breaking agriculture barriers
From a young age, Odessa’s parents kept their children busy on the ranch.
She shares, “We all have to pull our own weight, but there are still some challenges as a woman in the industry.”
“Agriculture is the foundation of our country and for me, it is my way of life and a part of everything that I do,” Odessa explains, sharing the large role the industry plays.
Being involved in agriculture comes with many lessons.
“One of the biggest lessons in the grand scheme of things is getting out there and making connections,” Odessa says. “When you have mentorship, you can learn from different people and broaden your spectrum of knowledge from different experiences and lifestyles.”
Odessa offers words of encouragement of women in agriculture and those with interest, sharing, “Go get your hands dirty and get outside as much as you can, going out and experiencing it is the biggest thing I would tell people.”
Odessa concludes by sharing she believes women in agriculture have been doing a great job making their voices heard, pushing forward, showing their capabilities and continuing to make an impact.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.