CHARLO — Agriculture is one of Montana’s biggest industries. There are almost 27,000 farms and ranches in the state. Montana's 58 million acres of farm and ranchland ranks second in the nation behind Texas.
And while it is a tough job, the Future Farmers of America state advisor tells MTN News there are nearly 6,000 youngsters enrolled in Montana’s FFA program right now - and that is an all-time high number.
Those numbers are likely buoyed by the 100 schools that have an agricultural education program and Future Farmers America chapter.
A young Mission Valley woman is “all in” when it comes to her future in ranching, and she taught herself how to become a champion in the ‘show’ ring.
“I’ve gone more miles with a trailer hauling cattle than I have just driving around going to the grocery store,” said 20-year-old Kyia Hendrickson, who says showing cattle is a relentless commitment.
“You’re married to it. You don’t get to go on a week’s vacation because there’s no one there to feed for you and no one can do it like you can. It’s just like having kids. No one can take of your kids just like you can. Having show animals, it's knowing them in and out. The moment I walk into the barn I can tell if anything is wrong with them just solely based on their attitudes let alone taking their temperatures and looking at them” veterinary wise," said Kyia Hendrickson.
Kyia recently returned from the National Western Stock Show in Denver, one of four major competitions of the year and considered the Super Bowl of livestock shows. She came back with three major wins, but none bigger when her heifer Huckleberry won Grand Champion Open ShorthornPlus.
Huckleberry and Cherry also each won reserve champion ribbons in their categories. Quite a showing for a young woman from the Mission Valley.
“But getting there and the work before it is what it takes," said Hendrickson. "You don't win on show day. You win a show when you’re at home. So all the work you put in before is what it takes."
Kyia has been competing since she was very young, but her winning ways with livestock were self-taught through keen observation.
"I had a few people help me along the way but never had someone say here, this is how we do it. Let me take you under my wing and show you exactly what we do. I just learned a lot by standing around a bit at national shows and watching and going oh my goodness, that’s how they do it. "
On this Charlo ranch, home of Kyia’s business Happy Heifer Cattle Company, and her parents' business, Diamond H Livestock, the workdays are long. There are sacrifices for those in agriculture, but for Kiya this is where she wants to be.
"I would miss 60 days of school to be on the road to go to shows and I had to figure out how I could manage and keep going to school and keep up the grades so I could compete. When you want something that badly, there isn’t anything that will stop you from doing it. I would say I’m planning to do it for the rest of my life, as long as I can do it."
Kyia tells MTN News winning in the ring is great but she gets the most satisfaction when she mentors kids about how to exhibit their own livestock, setting them up for success.