The Northern International Livestock Exposition, or NILE as it is most commonly known, has been in existence since 1967. It is well-known throughout the agriculture and cattle industries as a premier organization for many reasons, one of those being the quality animals they sell through their shows. They also host a pretty amazing rodeo event every October.
But if you thought that was the end of opportunities in the world of NILE, Wyatt Berkram will be happy to tell you about another program NILE promotes and it is one that worked out really well for him.
It worked out so well, that Wyatt can now claim Sugar, the NILE Grand Champion Merit Heifer, as his own.
In NILE, there is a program open to kids ages 12 to 16 called the NILE Merit Heifer program. The whole point of the program is to help interested kids get a jump start into the beef cattle business and understand what it means to take care of an animal from the time it is weaned from its mother.
Wyatt is 15 years old, a sophomore at Cut Bank High School and the son of Wade and Leslie Berkram. He has been around cattle all his life, thanks to his dad’s cattle business. He and his younger brother, Dallas, have 15 of their own registered Black Angus, which is a great start to the herd they want to call their own. It is Wyatt’s hope to have that herd number close to 150 by the time he is 25 years of age.
In NILE Merit Heifer program, there was an opportunity to add another heifer to their herd, but first Wyatt would have to jump through all the hoops the program requires. He was more than willing to do that and more.
First, Wyatt had to apply to be part of the program. Not everyone gets in, but Wyatt was one of 24 kids selected to participate. Once in the program, the kids are given a heifer they are responsible for until the completion of the program in October.
The heifer is a donated animal given by only quality cattle ranches. Wyatt’s “little girl” came from Jeff Flesch’s ranch, Flesch Angus, in Shelby.
“I was really fortunate in that I got to pick out the heifer I wanted from a select group at Jeff’s ranch last December,” Wyatt said. “I kept coming back to the same one, so that is the one I chose. I named her Sugar.”
Sugar was about nine months old at the time Wyatt took her home and started the process required in the NILE Merit Heifer Program. For the next 10 months, until October of this year, he and Sugar would become best friends. He would take care of her, halter break her, feed her, pay for her feed and when she was ready to be bred, he would select the right bull semen and have her artificially inseminated.
“She has to be bred and pregnant, in order for us to finish the program,” Wyatt explained.
And while he is doing all this for Sugar, Wyatt is totally responsible for keeping accurate records of what he is doing, when he does it, how much it costs and the results of each activity.
“My record book seemed like it was about 700 pages. I am not really great at that, so my mom helped me a ton with that. She was really good at it,” he said. “We took a lot of pictures to put with all the other information too.”
The NILE show and rodeo was scheduled for mid-October this year in Billings and that is when Wyatt and Sugar would get to show off for the judges.
There were two days of judging and on day one, Wyatt and Sugar were awarded Reserve Champion. But on day two, when it really mattered the most, Wyatt and Sugar came out as the best of the best and were awarded Grand Champion Merit Heifer. Part of his winnings included a cash prize, a plaque, a ribbon and Montana Silversmith belt buckle, which he proudly wears. But the biggest and best prize, was being able to keep Sugar and take her home.
Wearing a gigantic smile, Wyatt and maybe even Sugar too for that matter, returned to the cattle ranch owned by dad here in Cut Bank. Sugar was added to the growing herd owned by Wyatt and his brother Dallas and will have her calf in the New Year, when yet another member will be added to the herd.
This is the life of a cattle rancher and this is the life that Wyatt Berkram wants to live and be involved in for the rest of his life.
“I have been taking care of cows since I could walk,” Wyatt shared. “My mom said when I was just a baby I was on the back of my Grandpa’s horse. This is what I want to do when I grow up. I love this.”
Wyatt is very quick to add that none of this happens without the help of some pretty amazing people in his life.
“It is like insane what my mom and dad have done for me. They are great. Jeff Flesch was really great to me, too, and it was so nice of him to let me pick out the heifer I wanted from his herd,” shared an appreciative Wyatt,
“Rhonda and Coalter Littrell did so much to support and help me through the program. Kari Lewis and Hapi Seewald were so supportive the whole time too. And my sisters Ashley, Haley, and older brother, Dusty and younger brother Dallas, all helped me so much too,” he said. “I just want to thank everyone for being there for me.”
Outside of his time on the ranch, Wyatt is a typical high school kid. He does well in school, plays football and wrestles and plans on going to an agricultural college, Northwest University in Powell, Wyo. following high school graduation.
He will always have cattle in his life, it is in his blood and it is what he loves. And with Sugar and her not-yet-born-calf adding two more lives into the herd he and his brother are working on growing, he has a great start on that and on life.