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Project gives youths cattle and mentors

KERKHOVEN -- As an active 4-H and FFA member, Brianna Jahn has had her desire to become a veterinarian well nourished. The 16-year-old from rural Kerkhoven has raised sheep, chickens, rabbits and pigs.

Jahn, a sophomore at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School, now has a purebred South Devon heifer on her family's farm.

Valued at more than $2,000, the calf belongs to a Pierz cattle farmer who wants to help Jahn learn the ropes about the cattle business and at the same time help the industry grow. He will serve as Jahn's mentor during the next year, providing guidance on how to feed and breed the animal.

If Jahn, who must keep meticulous records and submit regular reports during the year, does a good job, the heifer will be given to her in order to establish her own herd of South Devon cattle.

The gift of the calf and the guidance is part of a unique program called the Minnesota Youth Beef Experience Program sponsored by the Minnesota Beef Expo. This is the second year the group has conducted the youth mentorship program. Six Minnesota youth were selected for the program last month.

"We want to help kids get started in the beef industry," said Mark Goodrich, events coordinator with the Minnesota Beef Expo. Goodrich said he, and most people now in the beef industry, had "people they looked up to" when they were young and just starting out in the business.

Kids today, said Goodrich, "need that connection" to help them gain ground in a career in agriculture.

Dar Giess, who is Jahn's mentor, said he remembers when he was 8 years old and bought his first heifer from his uncle. He paid $125 for the calf in one-dollar bills that he counted out one by one at the kitchen table. Having an adult guide was important for Giess, who along with his wife, Lynn, operate the DarLynn Cattle Company.

"We both had opportunities when we were young," said Giess, who is currently president of the North American South Devon Association and the World South Devon Association.

"Brianna is well deserving and I think she'll do a good job," said Giess, who said he wants to help stop the "exodus" of kids from the farm. "We need to retain them and keep them in the business," he said. "Too many times we wait too long to get them started. ... You got to set the hook early."

Giess said Jahn will "be an asset to what we're doing and she'll be a voice of promoting the industry."

There were 62 youth, ages 12-16, that applied for the program. Only six were selected.

Jahn, who named her calf Sohpie, is well-acquainted with doing daily chores and is eager to have hands-on experience raising cattle. She will be taking the calf to several national shows this winter with Giess.

"We wanted to give her something that would be a good show heifer and be a good mother," said Giess.

Jahn said she hopes that when Sohpie has her calf next year, it's another heifer so her breeding stock will double.

Matt Pearson, of rural Grove City, was another recipient of a heifer. He received a Simmental, which was donated by Gramms Farms from Hancock. The Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City junior already has 10 head of beef cattle and 30 ewes on his parents' farm.

He's hoping to major in animal science or agribusiness. "Surely, if I'm not a full-time farmer, I'll be a part-time farmer because I'm pretty interested in agriculture," he said.

Pearson said he was very excited to be able to add a high-quality Simmental heifer to his herd. "She's got a good cow family," said Pearson.

Youth must submit applications and letters of support from two adults. Pearson was a runner-up in the program last year, when he won a cattle clipper. In this year's application, he said that he'd like to "get a calf to clip."

He said he expects to learn a lot from his mentors. "They're big cattle farmers. That's what I want to do when I grow up," said Pearson, who is a 4-H member and active FFA member at ACGC.

"Everyone needs a role model," said Pearson. "The Gramms are great cattlemen to model yourself after."

Goodrich said a panel of five judges reads the applications from youth who pour out their hearts about why they would like to have a chance to raise cattle.

"I'm an old codger and I even get teared up," said Goodrich, who raises Angus cattle. "It brings me back to my youth."

He said cattle farmers who donated heifers to the program last year "got a lot out it" and had high praises for the kids who raised -- and kept -- their calves. "We're real excited about it," said Goodrich.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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