Story & Photos by Melinda Perkins, originally published in the October 2021 Tennessee Cattle Business magazine
“At a young age, I would go to the barn with my dad just as a fun afternoon activity,” said Haylee Ferguson as she reflected on how she got her start in the cattle industry. Although her start in the cattle industry might have been as simple as quality time with her dad, she has since become immersed in the field and acquired numerous accolades.
Haylee’s success in the show ring began when she started showing Shorthorn cattle at county fairs in kindergarten. Once she reached fourth grade, she was able to start exhibiting cattle through 4-H at State Beef Expo and at larger shows on the national level. However, a pivotal point in Haylee’s involvement in the show cattle industry was when she won the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association (TCA) and Farm Credit Mid-America (FCMA) Youth Beef Heifer Initiative Scholarship in 2013, and again in 2015.
“My parents kept it a secret from me until we got to TCA Convention. I remember being shocked and excited when they called my name,” said Haylee as she reflected on winning the scholarship as a fourth grader in 2013. Haylee admitted that she didn’t realize how much of an accomplishment it was to win the heifer scholarship until she bought her heifer and brought her home. However, when she won the scholarship again in 2015, she knew more about the award and was very eager to continue growing her cattle herd.
Although Haylee is a third generation Shorthorn cattle breeder, she used her heifer scholarship to branch out and explore new breeds and genetics for her cattle herd. In 2013, Haylee used her scholarship to purchase a dual registered Shorthorn Plus/Chianina influenced heifer from Miller Club Calves in Lebanon, Tennessee. She used her other scholarship to purchase an Angus female from Keith Cole in Crossville, Tennessee in 2015.
The females Haylee purchased with her TCA/FCMA heifer scholarships guided her herd in two different directions and tell a unique story for her cattle operation. The Chi heifer Haylee purchased only produced heifer calves during her tenure in Haylee’s herd. She retained these heifers for replacement females to grow her herd. Today, Haylee has two daughters, one granddaughter, and one great granddaughter from her original purchase in her herd. One of which she showed at State Expo and other local shows this year.
As odds would have it, the Angus female she purchased with her scholarship, only produced bull calves.Over the years, Haylee has been able to raise and sell these calves as prospect and market steers that have been competitive at county fairs across Tennessee, State Beef Expo, and even on the national level. In 2020, Haylee raised and sold an Angus steer that was produced by the Angus female she bought with her heifer scholarship. This steer was Grand Champion at the Eastern Regional Junior Angus Show, won his class at the National Junior Angus Show, and was the 5th overall steer at the Kentucky State Fair. This accomplishment is no small feat and adds great value to Haylee’s small beef cattle operation.
“The purchases I made with my heifer scholarships were very different and produced different types of calves,” said Haylee. “This helped me to expand my own operation, be successful in the show ring, and explore different avenues in marketing and selling the calves I raised.”
In addition to exposing her to other breeds and marketing opportunities, Haylee’s heifer scholarship purchases have taught her how important it is to build and maintain good relationships with other producers in the cattle industry. “As I have shown cattle and managed my herd over the years, I have been able to learn from the people I bought my heifers from and other producers in my area.”
Haylee realizes her knowledge of the cattle industry and successes thus far would not be possible without the support of her parents, Kevin and Phyllis Ferguson, 4-H agents, FFA advisors, fellow 4-H and FFA members, show cattle friends, industry mentors, and many others. Haylee has been involved in 4-H and FFA in and out of the show ring. In the show ring, she has acquired numerous breed and overall champions, prospect steer and bred-by-exhibitor honors, and showmanship titles. Specifically, this year at her final State Beef Expo, she earned a spot on the State 4-H Skillathon Team, showed the Reserve Supreme Bred-By- Exhibitor Heifer and Reserve Champion Prospect Steer, received Reserve Champion honors in the Senior Level II Showmanship Division, and was named Registered Heifer Premier Exhibitor.
Haylee’s accolades in 4-H and FFA don’t stop there. In FFA, she served as chapter President, was named a state winner in the Agriscience Fair, qualified for state in the Extemporaneous Speaking LDE, and competed in numerous other leadership and career development events. In 4-H, she was a state winner in the Beef and Leadership projects, a member of the 2020 state winning 4-H meat judging team and was the high point individual at the state contest. Haylee and her team also competed at the national contest where she received seventh overall individual honors. In addition to her 4-H and FFA involvement in the cattle industry, Haylee also served as a 2020 Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association Youth Ambassador.
Outside of 4-H and FFA, Haylee served as a class officer for all four years of high school and was a key member of the Eagleville High School basketball team in which she played point guard. Haylee graduated from Eagleville High School in May and is now a freshman Animal Science student and Haslam Scholar at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Haylee plans to continue to be a voice for people in agriculture as she follows her passion for the meat and livestock industries. She plans to continue showing cattle at junior national shows and building relationships with other cattle enthusiasts. She also plans to share her passion for showing and raising cattle by mentoring younger 4-H members. Without a doubt, it is opportunities like the Youth Beef Heifer Scholarship that have laid the foundation for Haylee to continue her involvement in the cattle industry for many years to come.
HOW YOU CAN WIN
For the 11th year, the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Credit Mid-America are offering the Youth Beef Heifer Scholarships. Six deserving youth will be awarded either $2,000 or $1,000 to purchase a heifer of their choice, for a total of $9,000.
“Since 2011, the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Credit Mid-America have awarded over $80,000 in heifer scholarships and helped purchase over 55 heifers,” said Charles Hord, executive vice president of TCA. “These quality heifers have allowed Tennessee youth to excel in the show ring and have served as the foundation for many young cattle producer’s herds across the state.”
There are three categories of winners: Junior (4th and 5th grades), Junior High (6th, 7th, and 8th grades), and Senior High (9th, 10th, and 11th grades). Each of those categories will have a first and second place award. Applications for this scholarship are due by December 1, 2021, and can found in this issue of the Tennessee Cattle Business. Applications can also be found on TCA’s website: www.tncattle.org/scholarships. Contact Director of Youth Programs & Outreach, Melinda Perkins, if you have any questions: email@example.com or (615) 896-2333.