Kayla Rossi of the Soroco Future Farmers of America (“FFA”) Chapter in Colorado lives on her family’s cow/calf operation and developed an interest in the experience at an early age. She runs her livestock operation on roughly 100 acres of irrigated pastureland, raising cattle, sheep and goats. Kayla irrigates, fixes fences, drags meadows, monitors the livestock, and harvests hay.
In 2021, she was the Future Farmers of America’s Entrepreneurship Winner for Diversified Livestock Production. To hear more about her operations and role at FFA, click here.
My life on the family farm
I am a fifth-generation rancher. My family began ranching in the early 1900s by owning a small herd of Hereford Cows and growing potatoes.
Progressing into the mid-1970s my grandpa and uncle worked in the local coal mine and managed summer yearlings, which eventually led to the building of our cow herd that we have today.
A cow/calf operation allows us to have a permanent herd while producing calves to sell later in the year.
Having a cow/calf operation allows us to make breeding decisions that are best for our location, learn the importance of delivering the calf, keep accurate records on the cows, calves, and bulls, and know when to wean our calves to prepare for selling them.
What’s the process of running such a large operation?
I run my sheep, goat, and cattle enterprises on 100 acres of irrigated pastureland from my dad. I can lease these 100 acres through a labor exchange agreement, as it’s part of the family-owned ranch.
At the beginning of my SAE [FFA’s supervised agricultural experience], my dad taught me proper management and husbandry skills.
This enabled me to become independent over the last two years to ensure my operation ran smoothly.
What kind of work goes into maintaining the farm?
To be successful in my SAE, it is my responsibility to uphold my labor exchange contract. This includes irrigating, which I do from mid-May to early September. I learned about water rights from my dad and grandpa and the local water commissioner. This gave me an understanding of how much water I must use and where I need to get it in the pasture.
My family begins harvesting hay in late July. It is my duty to run the racking tractor because I am the youngest and that is how everyone starts on the ranch.
I do know how to run other equipment, but my sole responsibility is raking hay.
Farming challenges & opportunities
What is the most challenging part of your job on the farm?
The most challenging part of my job is time management. Every day I have to focus on all enterprises, which can be troubling. The best way that I can overcome this problem is through recordkeeping.
Solid time management skills allow me to understand what is going on in my operation, what enterprise needs the most hours of work out of my day, and what animals need attention.
I have to ensure I am giving enough time to each of my different enterprises while maintaining the responsibilities of my labor exchange.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love breeding and kidding, lambing, and calving all my livestock. I take pride in knowing that I can breed my livestock with the animals that I have, and I get to see the end result.
Lambing season is the first major event of my year in late January. This requires me to check my ewes every few hours, and I get the ewes to the lambing jugs in the barn if there are babies.
I lamb until late February. Then, I calve in mid-March.
I love calving because it has been my life since I was a little girl. I have learned a lot from living on our family-owned/operated cow/calf operation. Later, I kid in early June to give me some time from when calving season ends in late April.
Goats are hard to raise in the cold, so I try to do it in the beginning of summer. This is to ensure they live to the time I sell them.
What is the most rewarding part of your job on the farm?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing all my hard work pay off. The biggest example was with my proficiency application. I applied for the Diversified Livestock Proficiency award at my state-level last February 2021.
This application allowed me to explain my operation through prompts. When announced as the Colorado state winner, I revised it to be sent to the National level. Little did I know that I would be announced as a National Finalist in this area in August of 2021. I prepared for the interview that would allow me to show my knowledge of my operation.
At the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo, my Diversified Livestock Proficiency was announced as the National Winner. I was filled with excitement.
This taught me that while the work may be challenging, I know I am finding success at a job well done.
Creating the path for growth
What is an example of a regenerative practice that you’ve instituted at your operation?
A particular regenerative practice that I have implemented in the livestock operation involves integrating livestock and crops.
In the spring, garrison grass begins to grow. I put cows out to graze the grass prior to irrigation. Grazing before irrigation reduces the amount of garrison grass that matures.
What is your best piece of advice for young people looking to focus their careers in farming?
The best piece of advice that I can give young people looking to focus their careers in farming is to not give up during the hard times. There are many days that agriculturists face where life seems to not be going their way, especially during droughts. However, the FFA has taught me to not give up because the rising sun symbol introduces a new day in agriculture.