Young Ranch Girl Has Big Dreams
Fall 2020 Written by Cyd Hoefle Photography by Stu Hoefle
Hannah Todd walked quietly through the knee-deep grass toward a small herd of cattle. Carrying a bucket of feed and a halter, she stopped and waited as a heifer came forward and pushed her nose into the bucket. Hannah laughed, rubbed the heifer between the ears and down her back and placed the bucket on the ground for her.
“Rory’s spoiled,” she said. “She acts more like a dog than a cow. But that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time with her.” It was easy to see the pride on Hannah’s face as she talked about her heifer. Rory is one of Hannah’s herd of 10, but she holds a special place, having been given to Hannah through the NILE Heifer Merit program in October of 2019.
Hannah was one of several candidates selected to participate in the coveted Merit Heifer program, in which young teens gain knowledge about the beef industry and receive a heifer as part of their livestock breeding program. It is hard work to be a recipient of the live animal scholarship. Participants are chosen based on merit, future goals and their ability to care for the animal. Each participant is required to include character references, a written essay, a five-minute video showcasing why they would be a good recipient of the heifer, proof that they have a facility to take care of the animal and reasonable goals and objectives if they do win.
Hannah received a black angus heifer donated by the Angelo Cattle Co. of Drummond. Since October, she has kept careful records of her care and has been in contact with her donors on several occasions. She also makes monthly reports to the NILE on her heifer’s progress throughout the year. At the end of the year, if Hannah has properly cared for her, she will be rewarded with full ownership.
Hannah lives with her parents and younger brother on a cattle ranch at the base of the Madison Mountain Range south of Ennis. She grew up riding along in the stock truck with her father, Luke Todd, and her brother, Tatum, as cows were checked and fed and calves tagged.
She started riding when she was 5 and has competed in working ranch horse classes. It’s obvious that she’s a good hand. She loves horses and cattle, and she enjoys air rifle competition. Mature beyond her years, it’s hard to believe that the tall, slender young woman is just 14 and entering high school in the fall.
“Moving cows is about my most favorite thing,” she said, “I just love doing that.” The Todds keep Hannah and Tatum’s herd of cows separate from the rest of the ranch’s herd.
“It’s just easier in so many ways,” their mother, Christy, explained. “We’re trying to teach our kids responsibility by taking care of them and figuring out costs of feed, veterinarian supplies and any other incurred costs. But also, since they will be first time calvers next spring, we keep them away from the cows that have calved before.”
So far, it appears the kids are doing a great job. Several weeks earlier, Hannah had her NILE heifer bred using artificial insemination with sperm donated from a bull as part of the NILE program. Her accurate records recorded the day of the breeding and when she plans to do a pregnancy test. For this heifer she decided to do an ultrasound because the results can be determined much earlier and she’s anxious to know that her heifer is pregnant, another requirement of the NILE.
Hannah started her herd two years ago with a 4-H calf from her parents’ herd. A year later she secured a youth production loan offered by the Montana Department of Livestock and bought eight more head. All of her heifers are bred to calve next April.
“I’m pretty excited for that,” she said. Her first calf was born this spring and Hannah planned to show them at the county fair in late summer.
Not far from the pasture in a shaded corral are Hannah’s 4-H steer and Tatum’s hog projects. The kids worked all summer training their animals for the Madison County Fair, held in August in Twin Bridges. Hannah competed with her heifer, Rory, her cow/calf pair, her market steer, air rifle competition and working ranch horse.
Tatum took a market hog and entered a welding project using horseshoes that he welded into the shape of a cross and painted bright red. The 11-year-old smiled brightly as he said that his project was already earmarked for his grandmother, but he would happily take orders for other projects too.
When school was canceled in the spring, the Todd children quickly adapted to doing more of what they normally do during the evenings and weekends. Hannah was excited to see one of her heifers calve for the first time. She and her mom watched through binoculars so they wouldn’t disturb her
“It was such a cool thing,” Hannah said excitedly, “and I would have missed it if I had been in school.”
Her growing herd holds the key to her future, Hannah said. “I hope my cows help me to either go to college or start a business,” she said as she watched over them. “That’s my plan anyway.”