Hayley Stahl wins Grand Champ heifer and Top Herdsman in Merit Heifer contest | TSLN.com

Hayley Stahl wins Grand Champ heifer and Top Herdsman in Merit Heifer contest

This heifer from Currant Creek Angus is the first registered heifer for Haley Stahl, who owns seven head of commercial Angus cows. Photo courtesy Haley Stahl

2020 has been a challenging year for all in the cattle industry, but for Hayley Stahl and Gary and Phyllis Eliasson, the stars aligned to make the past 12 months meaningful.

Gary, who owns and manages Currant Creek Angus Ranch of Roundup, Montana, said that when he and Phyllis learned Hayley was their NILE Merit Heifer “match,” they were excited. As they walked out of the ring last year, following the announcement, Hayley told them, “you will have your first grand champion next year.”

Hayley Stahl presents her Currant Creek Angus female at the NILE Merit Heifer Event on October 4th 2020 Photo by Josh Homer/Burning Ember Photography.

Hayley and the heifer delivered.

“When Hayley Stahl sets her mind to something, she works hard to make it happen,” said Gary, who said it was particularly special to be matched with Hayley because her dad and uncles have been Currant Creek Angus Ranch bull customers for years.

Hayley, who not only won Grand Champion NILE Merit Heifer, but also the Top Herdsman award for the 2020 Merit Heifer program, on Oct. 4, 2020, is grateful to the Eliassons for donating the heifer. Hayley and her family live on a commercial cattle and grain operation outside of Winnett. She also has a small flock of sheep and sells some show lambs.

“We’ve known the Eliassons for a very long time,” said Hayley, who only had to travel a short 15 minutes to go pick out her heifer.

“It’s been an amazing experience to have that heifer given to me,” she said, adding that she “loved” the time spent with her heifer with the sweet demeanor. “She loves treats, she loves scratches. It only took us about two weeks to halterbreak her,” she said.

“There is no way I can complain about her. I’m very excited to see what I can do with her in the future,” said Stahl.

The heifer whose dam is a full sister to the Eliasson’s highest selling bull and is out of a Paint Rock bull, is bred to KG Justified, and should calve in December or January, said Stahl.

Eliasson said Stahl selected the heifer out of the top 10-15 that he had sorted off for her to browse through. She should make a good cow, and that is exactly what Stahl is hoping for.


Although she very much enjoys showing – and was named third place showman in the Merit Heifer showmanship contest – Hayley is even more excited about raising calves and hopefully selling bulls.

“It is a very tough game to be able to get into selling bulls in this industry, but I would love to be able to sell registered Angus bulls. That is a goal hovering above me and I hope I can achieve it.”

In fact, the Merit Heifer program provided Hayley with an opportunity she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“One of the main reasons I decided to apply was to get into the registered side of the cattle industry and hopefully raise progeny.” She hopes to someday buy her own ranch and run descendants of her Merit Heifer there. “I was interested in getting involved in this side of the industry, and I’m excited to see where this will go,” she said.

If Eliassons can help, they will, and they have already offered her the opportunity to sell bulls from the Merit heifer in an upcoming Currant Creek Angus Ranch sale.

Merit heifer program coordinator Shelby Shaw said that Hayley was an organized and responsible member of the Merit Heifer class.

“She is on target to do great things. As an exhibitor, she excelled and her heifer looked the part. She dressed professionally for her interview, her recordbook was well completed,” said Shaw.

The entire Merit Heifer process was “a pretty big deal,” said Stahl, who explained that she had to learn to edit youtube video, work with her parents to develop a plan for AI-ing the heifer, even though the cattle on the Stahl ranch are normally bull-bred, she compiled reference letters, an essay and more. Throughout the year, full financial reports including expenses for feed, vet services, show supplies, breeding and more were required. “It was quite a process, but it was enjoyable and it was worth it,” she said.

Stahl very much enjoyed the monthly educational conference calls that each featured a different topic – January was nutrition, March was bull selection, April was breeding, etc. The monthly reports included questions about that month’s presentation.

Stahl showed her heifer in June at a jackpot show and then the weeks leading up to the NILE, she spent considerable time preparing and studying for her interview, clipping, rinsing and blowing her heifer, practicing for showmanship and more.

Like all of the other aspects of the contest, she enjoyed the interview. “I’ve never done a job interview. Visiting with two people about the industry and getting to talk about the beef industry and nothing more was super fun,” she said.

Seeing all of the other heifers lined up and ready for the contest was impressive, she said.

“They all looked amazing. Every kid has worked hard and put blood sweat and tears into their year,” she said.

Chan Phillips of Rockwall, Texas, judged the heifer class. Although he wasn’t selecting based on showmanship, he said that without Hayley’s strong showmanship skills, her heifer may not have made it to the top in an extremely competitive class.

“I could tell that wasn’t the first time she’s been around that heifer. She’d done a lot of work with that heifer and they made a good team,” he said.

The heifer herself was an impressive bovine, he said. “I liked the way she was balanced in her underline and the way she came up into her forerib. She excelled in overall mass with width and dimension but stayed maternal in her kind.” Phillips also commented on the attractive way she held her head and her extension up front.

Eliasson said he and his wife do not necessarily breed their cattle for the show ring, and while their heifers have taken reserve champion two different times in the 16 years they have donated to the program, this is the first grand champion Merit Heifer they have bred.

“We produce cattle for a lot of big operations, we call our heifers ‘working girls’ so winning this is extra special,” he said.

The NILE holds a special place in Gary’s heart. Not only has he contributed a heifer every year since the Merit Heifer program kicked off, he bought his first two registered Angus cows as heifers at the NILE. He also recalls former Montana Senator Conrad Burns, who was the first NILE manager, promising him he would attend Gary’s first bull sale. “I had forgotten all about it. So it was unreal to see him, (by then, a US Senator) walk into my sale,” he said.

The NILE will surely hold a special place in Hayley’s heart for years to come, as well. “It was amazing to be able to win with my heifer, it has been an amazing year to spend with her. It was a lot of pressure but it was a great experience,” she said.

Without exception, every one of the youth who has received one of the Currant Creek heifers over the years has been a “great kid,” said Gary. And his praise for Hayley only adds to the esteem.

Gary said he was recently watched Hayley run the grain cart while her parents combined wheat. “She’s a very special young gal,” he said.

“Hayley is probably the most enthusiastic, goal oriented, young cattle producer I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” he said.

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