Dakota teen wins NILE Merit Heifer show | TSLN.com

Dakota teen wins NILE Merit Heifer show

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
for Tri-State Livestock News
Sidwell Ranch donated this heifer to Kensey Mikkelsen from Hobson, Montana in 2009-2010. Photo courtesy Kensey Mikkelson

Top Heifer Results from 2007-2016

2007: Kyla Olson – heifer donated by Felton Angus

2008: Tyler Tintzman – heifer donated by Felton Angus

2009: Bobby Dorvall – heifer donated by Y Lazy Y Shorthorns

2010: Laura Frazee – heifer donated by Felton Angus

2011: Cierra Lamey – heifer donated by Green Mountain Angus

2012: Ethan Bachmeier – heifer donated by Knaub Cattle Co.

2013: Garrett Bromenshenk – heifer donated by Shipwheel Cattle Co.

2014: Nicole Stevenson – heifer donated by KG Ranch

2015: Wes Brown – heifer donated by Bank of Baker (Dean Wang & Danny Krantz)

2016: Raina Perli – heifer donated by Oedekoven Angus

Contact for Donors:

Sidwell Ranch

Richard & Becky Sidwell

Columbus, MT


Oedekoven Angus

David & Dianna Oedekoven

Sheridan, WY


“The coolest part of this whole experience was to see my hard work pay off and my functional cow recognized for being a good cow.”

That’s Raina Perli speaking. The 18-year-old Senior at Rapid City Christian School in South Dakota is talking about the moment her entry was named Champion of the Northern International Livestock Exposition’s (NILE) 2016 Merit Heifer Show in Billings, Montana last October.

“I missed the paperwork deadline to show my heifer in the Merit Angus show, so the people and the judge had not seen her, and in the pre-show Calcutta nobody expected her to win . . . she was kind of an underdog,” Raina said. “So we’re there in the ring and the judge is picking . . . he picks out five or six and lines them up and I’m thinking ‘OK, I picked her to be a functional cow, not a show winner’ . . . then he points right at me and says, ‘You need to go stand up there’. I was completely shocked. Then in the Finals he did the same thing, lined up about four and then had the top three step forward.”

If you’re among the many who haven’t heard about the NILE’s “Merit Heifer Program” it began in 2000, specifically “to help youth get a start in the beef cattle business by awarding heifer calves to project participants chosen on the basis of merit, future goals, and the ability to care for the animal.” Since that time nearly 350 heifers have been donated by supportive, interested breeders to become “live animal scholarships” for ambitious 4-H and FFA members between the ages of 12 and 16.

“The coolest part of this whole experience was to see my hard work pay off and my functional cow recognized for being a good cow.” Raina Ferli, high school senior

“The program was the brainchild of Merit Heifer Chairman Bill Pelton,” NILE General Manager Jennifer Boka explains, “as one more way the NILE could directly support the future of youth – in keeping with the essential mission of NILE to ‘promote, support and embrace the future of agriculture through youth.’ The Merit Heifer program is not only effective in bringing youth and their interests to the NILE organization in general, but it also does an exceptional job of bringing those kids and their ties into the overall cattle industry.’”

There are many challenging steps to complete before taking home a Merit Heifer. The applicant must be a NILE Junior Member, which costs $25 and can be refunded if an unsuccessful applicant requests it. They must submit a personal letter plus filling out and signing a required application form. They must provide six references, three on the application (whom the Merit Heifer Committee may call as needed); along with three letters of reference from people other than those listed on the application. Additionally, the applicant prepares and provides a self-voiced 5-minute YouTube video which must include but is not necessarily limited to introduction of the applicant, a virtual tour of their facility and views of their current 4H or FFA projects, and outlining of the applicants goals and objectives for the Merit Heifer if they are selected. After all that comes a “freestyle” segment in which the applicant is asked to creatively convince the selection committee they are worthy of receiving a heifer. Applicants have to be between 12 and 15 years of age on June 30th in the year of application, and the deadline to apply in the next Merit Heifer competition is June 30th, 2017. Participants will be selected by October, and be recognized during the 2017 NILE.

Being selected is only the tip of the iceberg. The rules say, “During the program duration participants are responsible for raising the heifer, arranging for her to be bred, completing the record-keeping procedure and bringing the animal back one year later as a bred replacement heifer for exhibit at the NILE stock show in October. Each program participant will own their calf jointly with NILE until the completion of the program, at which time NILE officials will sign off and the participant will take ownership of the heifer and her offspring. The program is completed after the heifer is determined to be bred, all record-keeping has been completed and the heifer has been shown at the NILE stock show.”

Who submits applications for Merit Heifers, and why? Sometimes it’s by happenstance, as Raina Perli explains, “Two years ago Mom went to the NILE to check out the show and just kind of stumbled across the Merit Heifer information. I had enjoyed showing in a Legacy Show in Rapid City in 2011 and 2012, so we looked into it. I started my application in 2015, filling out a paper application, writing an essay and doing a 5-minute video. We probably did 20 videos . . . a dog barked in the middle of one, then my phone died. My phone then rang while we had the video going; then we thought we’d gotten a good one and someone drove up our drive,” Raina remembers. But it was all worthwhile when that acceptance letter came in the mail.

After participants are named, the Merit Heifer committee discusses the possible matches to choose the best fit for heifers and recipients. “When they notified me, I learned my donor was Oedekovens out of Sheridan, Wyoming, and we were to pick up the heifer in October or November,” Raina says. “Being in volleyball kept me from going, so Mom went. I was on the phone, she was sending me pictures and pedigrees of the 15 or so heifers they offered for me to pick from. The Oedekovens were very helpful with the process, and I finally decided on this cow I’ve named Mrs. Buttersworth, picking her for pedigree, femininity and the ability to be a good cow. So mom brought her home.”

Raina already had cows there, “My own little herd of 15 or 20, mostly Registered Angus and a few Charolais and Jerseys – a real low maintenance operation where they run on pasture with mineral supplement and sometimes hay. Having this heifer to feed for show and keeping books on everything was a real eye-opener to a whole new program, and how much money it costs,” she says. “I kept track of her rations and each thing I spent and compiled all that and sent it to Shelby Shaw and it was graded on conference call Power Points every month. I bred her to our bull and have learned a lot about the breed and the industry, and how to apply it to my herd.”

Shelby Shaw is a 4-H, FFA and livestock show alumni, now NILE livestock manager and director of youth education, through which she enjoys interaction with participants while managing the Merit Heifer program.

“After being a recipient of the program myself and now working alongside the recipients as the program coordinator, it really shows everything that the program has to offer — and for that I am extremely humbled,” Shaw said. “Overseeing the program allows me to watch each recipient bond and grow with their heifer from start to finish, communicate with the donors, and promote the program for future recipients. The best part is seeing all the heifers together at the NILE each fall and hearing from each recipient on their NILE Merit Heifer journey.”

2016 Merit Heifer Champions Raina and Mrs. Butterworthy are currently on the learning curve of assimilating. They’re accomplishing it together . . . a bred heifer that’s been show-fed into the grasslands pasture environment shared by the rest of Raina’s cows. “She fits in very well, she’s well behaved, her genetics fit and she’s all mine now – I have a bill of sale,” the happy recipient says. “Ultrasound shows the calf she’s carrying is a heifer,” Raina grins. “I hope to break her to lead and show her for my last year in 4-H at the Western Junior Livestock Show in Rapid City. Then if it works out I’d like to take her to the NILE and show her, and maybe sell her through the NILE sale.”

In this celebratory Golden Anniversary year of the NILE, kicking off October 14, 2017, that would be the NILE Merit Heifer program working as it should – no doubt making a big dent in Raina’s college expenses as she plans to major in natural sciences for secondary education. Back at the ranch, Mrs. Buttersworth’s factory will keep on working toward that goal as well. F