Heifer Project Provides Lessons in Ranching, Responsibility

August 17, 2016 10:11 AM

By: Trudy Balcom, Rawlins Daily Times

Riggen Myers will be a freshman at Little Snake River Valley School in Wyoming this fall, but his education in the cattle industry is already well underway.

Myers participated in the Breeding Beef Cattle Show with a heifer and bull calf he received through the Carbon County Fair Heifer Project, the Rawlins Daily Times reports.

"That's what I want to do — be a rancher. It's a good way to get started," Myers said.

The Heifer Project offers youth that are serious about learning about the cattle industry a chance to raise their own heifer, breed her, show the heifer and calf and eventually sell the animals if they choose — a process that takes two years.

The heifers raised by the kids that participate in the project are donated by area ranchers.

"They do it because they know they're aiding the youth to understanding the cattle industry, more so than with a market animal," said carbon County Fair Board member Ray Barkhurst, of Encampment.

Barkhurst said that the Heifer Project first began in the early 1980s.

Ask any rancher and they will tell you that even though cattle reproduce, they are not free.

"It's a major investment in the youth of the county," Barhurst said, noting that the heifers donated to the project are worth an average of $1,400 each.

Carbon County youth between the ages of 13-17 who have previously shown a large animal at the fair and have the facilities to keep a heifer and calf are eligible to apply to the program.

Many of the kids involved in the project start out raising a market animal, which is a short-term commitment in comparison, but a good way to start.

"I started out just showing steers, then I heard about the heifer program," Myers said. "Growing up on a ranch, I knew a lot, but it's really a good learning experience."

The kids who apply have to have some grit and perseverance. Caring for a heifer and then her calf for a full two years is not something every teen is willing to take on.

Besides caring for the animal, the youth involved in the Heifer Project must also keep careful records about their animal's health and feed, train it to lead for the shows and keep in touch with the donor to let them know how the animal is doing.

"You have to work your way up, it really teaches you to work hard for something you want," Myers explained.

Myers' heifer was donated to him by X & H Ranch near Saratoga. He said that participating in the Heifer Project also provides an opportunity to build relationships.

"You make a relationship, you have to write letters every month . it becomes a friendship too," Myers said.

"Youth get the experience of working with fellow ranchers and cattlemen," Barkhurst said.

The participants have the responsibility of selecting a bull to breed the heifer to, and to see her through the birth of the calf. They are responsible for the quality of the calf they produce.

"That's all in their decision-making process," Barkhurst said, noting that it provides real-life lessons.

At the close of the two-year project is when the participants actually receive ownership of the heifer and calf from the donor. And they are judged on their participation in the program as well.

Participants can keep or sell their cattle, whatever they choose.

Myers said that he plans to sell his cattle to help build his college savings fund.

He also said that he plans to continue his participation in the program.

"I'll probably do it all the way until I'm a senior," he said.

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