Whitney Olson wins two national livestock championships without living on a farm
FORADA, Minn.—Whitney Olson is a farm girl through and through and has been involved in 4-H since she was in third grade.
Just last month, she competed and came out a big winner at the National Western Stock Show in Denver with her heifer, Demi. She won two national championship titles — the Supreme Champion Percentage Simmental in both the Junior Show and the Open Show.
But here's the thing: Olson has never lived on a farm. In fact, she lives with her dad and mom, Nick and Michaela Olson, and 7-year-old sister, Paisley, in the town of Forada, about eight miles south of Alexandria.
"You don't have to grow up on a farm to be involved with animals and 4-H," the 19-year-old said.
The Olsons keep their animals on the farm of a friend, Randy Anderson, who lives about 30 miles south of them, near Starbuck, Minn.
"Our two families work together," said Olson, adding that of about 80 cattle at the Anderson farm, her family owns three of them, two of which are show heifers. During the typical show season, which is roughly May through October, Olson said, she is at the Anderson farm every day taking care of her animals.
Olson is a fourth-generation 4-H member. She and her sister, Paisley, are members of the Lucky Star 4-H Club. When she was younger, Olson showed pigs and sheep, but eight years ago, she started showing cattle.
"She (Paisley) has showed pigs and heifers, too, now. She loves the cattle," said Olson. "As an older sister, it is so exciting to see your younger sister become involved in 4-H like you were."
Olson said for her, she has definitely found her passion in agriculture and is so thankful for her family and their support.
"It truly is a family affair, a team effort," said Olson. "My family is very close and I love that."
A 2016 graduate of Alexandria Area High School, Olson is now attending North Dakota State University where she is majoring in agriculture and minoring in ag business with an emphasis on strategic communication.
Olson called the Denver show, the "Super Bowl" of livestock shows, and her mom, Michaela, said it was a huge accomplishment as there are competitors across the nation that show their animals at that event.
"It's an extremely rare occurance to win both titles in one year," Michaela said in an email.
To get ready for shows, Olson said she typically starts in May by taking out all the dead hair on her heifers. She said she combs it out of the whole body. Then, it is all about grooming the animals until they are show ready.
Olson said it's like a hair salon for cows. She spends hours rinsing, combing and spraying "hair products" to condition the heifers' hair. The animals are kept cool by sitting under fans and are also kept as clean as possible.
They are fed a diet of mostly hay and also supplements. Olson said she wants her heifers to look as "lean and fresh" as possible. She said her heifers are unlike beef cattle, which are fed more corn than hay because farmers want them to "fatten up."
On show day, Olson said she typically gets up about 3 a.m. so she can wash and dry and feed her animal. The hair is washed and blow-dried, she said, and then also "glued and spray painted." All the products, she noted, are safe for the animals and are made especially for them.
"It takes a lot of time to get the animal ready, and there are so many people involved," Olson said. "It's a team effort."
The animals are judged on a variety of categories, including how they look and perform.
Each heifer, she said, has its own personality and, really, is more like a pet than anything else.
Olson said she loves being involved in 4-H and showing her animals, but that her animals love it, too.
"They are pretty pampered and spoiled," she said.
When asked if she plans on living on her own farm someday, Olson smiled wide and her eyes sparkled as she enthusiastically answered with a resounding, "Yes!"