RAPID CITY, SD – Pre-veterinary student Madison Hofer is eager to apply the skills she’s learning in classes at South Dakota State University (SDSU) to the breeding ewe she just won from South Dakota Farmers Union. “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to raise my own sheep,” explained Hofer who grew up on her family’s crop farm near Freeman. “I am eager to take care of her medical needs, but what I am most excited about is when she lambs.”
Hofer is among six youth to receive breeding stock – three ewes and three heifers – through South Dakota Farmers Union Herd Builder Scholarship program. The other youth are Jacob Jung, Mina; Rope Reis, Reliance; Austin Rose, Chamberlain; Keeleigh Reis-Elwood, Oacoma and Carissa Scheel, Alpena.
Youth are selected based on an application process and they were awarded breeding livestock during the 2022 Western Junior Livestock Show held in Rapid City.
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 and ewe to youth who plan to remain involved in South Dakota’s livestock industry,” Hofhenke said.
Purchased from reputable South Dakota cattle and sheep producers, Farmers Union staff selected the breeding stock based on their maternal genetic traits. “They are 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 and lambs – they are quality breeding stock,” Hofhenke explains.
Until winning this Herd Builder award, Hofer only raised show sheep. This ewe will start Hofer’s commercial flock which she plans to continue to expand. “I’ll use the money I earn from the offspring to help pay for vet school,” Hofer said.
Each Herd Builder recipient has a bit of a different story, but they all agree that receiving a quality breeding animal at no cost is a great way to support their long-term goal of raising livestock. “It is a free investment to help me expand my flock of sheep,” explained Chamberlain High School senior, Keeleigh Reis-Elwood. After high school, Reis-Elwood plans to attend Mitchell Tech and pursue a degree in Animal Science and become a livestock nutritionist. “I want to help livestock producers develop their feed rations,” she explained. “And I 100-percent plan to continue building my own herds.”
Elwood is already in the process of getting her ewe bred. Another Herd Builder recipient, Carissa Scheel, offered to let her utilize a ram at her family’s Alpena farm. Scheel’s family raises sheep and the third-generation farmer is excited about expanding her own breeding flock from six to seven as well as the new genetics this ewe introduces. “She will be a good change,” Scheel said. “Raising this flock of my own has given me many skills including financial skills – because I took out a loan to pay for the first six.”
Once her loan is paid off, Scheel will use the income her flock generates to help pay for college. This is also Austin Rose’s plan.
The 13-year-old already owns 10 cows, so he understands the cost-savings of winning a breeding heifer. “She will make a great cow and winning her saved me a good $2,000.” A sixth-generation Chamberlain rancher, Rose spends quite a bit of time working to help out on his family’s cow/calf and feedlot operation – he helps with feeding, cleaning feedlot pens, working cattle and does some fencing. Of all the chores he does, Rose most enjoys helping with calving. “I get to go out in our pasture, find the good quality cattle and think which one will be my next show cattle?”
For fun, Rose likes to show cattle. “I like going to cattle shows because I get to be with my friends who also show cattle,” Rose said.
Although college is a few years down the road for the eighth-grader, Rose says his career plans will probably include continuing his family’s ranch.
Eighth-grader Jacob Jung also plans to continue his family’s farming tradition. “I want to stay in the cattle business. It is what my parents do, so it is what I have done my entire life and I find it interesting.”
At 14, Jung is well on his way – he has already built up his commercial cow/calf herd to 20.
Like Jung, and most of the other Herd Builder recipients, Rope Reis has also built up a small herd of cattle. Because of this, he understands the value of the heifer he won. “This is a great opportunity,” said the fourth generation Oacoma rancher. In addition to raising cattle, Reis also trains horses. He uses most of the money he earns from these endeavors to reinvest in herd expansion, so that he can continue his family’s tradition. “This Herd Builder program is a good idea,” Reis said. “Because it helps us younger kids continue raising livestock.”
To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports family farmers and ranchers, visit www.sdfu.org.