HURON, S.D. — When she was 7, Swayze Ness’ dad, LeRoy, offered to sell she and her siblings each a bred heifer for $20.
“We were standing out in the pasture. I instantly wanted three. My brother wanted a red one and my sister didn’t want to hand over the $20,” Ness recalls.
The Kimball rancher has been building up her herd ever since. At 17 she now has 10 cows.
“I like being part of the entire process,” Ness says. “I like selecting the genetics, watching the calves being born and seeing them grow and develop into something really good and produce calves of their own.”
Ness’ herd genetics got a boost during the 2021 Western Jr. Livestock Show, when judges selected her as a winner of the South Dakota Farmers Union Herd Builder heifer. “She’s got really good genetics. I can’t wait to start using her to improve my herd.”
Helping youth get a start in the livestock industry is the reason South Dakota Farmers Union launched the Herd Builder program in 2019, explains Executive Director Karla Hofhenke.
“It is so challenging for young people to get a start in agriculture. Farmers Union thought a good way to support the next generation was to give a quality breeding heifer to a youth whose goal it is to remain involved in South Dakota’s livestock industry.”
Ness was one of two youth to win a breeding heifer. Purchased from a reputable South Dakota cattle producer, Farmers Union selected the heifers based on their maternal genetic traits. “This heifer was selected for breeding purposes. We anticipate the youth will also show them because they look pretty good in the show ring, but these are not club calves – they are quality breeding stock,” Hofhenke explains.
10-year-old Reva Barnes does plan to show, Fancy, the name she gave to the Farmers Union heifer she won. “She will be the third heifer I have shown. I like going out into the show ring with them with a smile on my face.”
Last year, Barnes showed two heifers, Black Widow and Poison Ivy – named after superheroes. However, after the show season, when the heifers were turned out onto the open range with the rest of the family’s herd, Black Widow ended up causing problems. “So, my dad told me, “Next time, name your cows nice names.” This year, I’m naming them after songs.’”
Barnes’ mom, Dottie, encouraged her daughters to apply for the Farmers Union Herd Builder because she knew the family would be showing at Western Jr. Applicants must be present to receive the animal and participate in the shows. Showing livestock in 4-H is a family tradition the fourth-generation rancher is happy to see her children continue.
“It is gratifying to see the next generation want to be part of a hands-on group of people who are working the land,” says Dottie, who raises cattle with her husband, Michael, on her family’s ranch near Lemmon. “Seeing Reva win this heifer is a really big honor. It is exciting that she can have a heifer to help build her herd.”
Showing the Farmers Union heifer is not a requirement. The fact that the Herd Builder program is designed to do just that – build up the genetics for the next generation of livestock producers is something Western Jr. Livestock Show manager, Jackie Maude appreciates.
It is so hard for kids to get started in the ag industry. This program gives those kids who want to stay in the livestock industry a leg up,” explains the Hermosa rancher. The show’s manager for 17 years, Maude has been actively involved in Western Jr. since her childhood. In fact, Western Jr. is where she met her husband, Marion
2021 is the first year Farmers Union gave two heifers away. “When the judging was complete, we had a tie. So, I asked the kids if they wanted to do rock-paper-scissors or pick a number to see who would get the heifer. You should have seen their faces and heard the crowd when I suggested a third option, that we give a heifer to each of them,” Hofhenke recalls.
In 2022, Farmers Union will give away three heifers and three breeding lambs. In addition to the Herd Builder program, South Dakota Farmers Union also sponsors a home-cooked meal for the participants and their families. The meal is prepared by a Polo, South Dakota cattle producer and caterer, Cheryl Schaefers Cheryl’s Catering.
“We are a family farmer and rancher organization. So, we like to be involved in events, like Western Jr., where we can provide support and encouragement to our state’s family farmers and ranchers,” Hofhenke explains.
To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports the state’s farm and ranch families, visit www.sdfu.org.
For more S.D. news, click here.