Emily Hopfer has proven to be a star in her field.
She’s earned that distinction with the help of her Gelbvieh cattle, a herd she has been developing since she was a 4-H club member in the fourth grade eight years ago. The 18-year-old’s commitment and work in establishing her Gelbvieh herd earned her the FFA Star Farmer honor for 2014 for Oregon.
She was selected for the honor from a group of 12 students representing all of the state’s FFA districts. The students submitted written explanations of their FFA projects and were interviewed in person by a three-person panel at last spring’s Oregon State FFA convention in Bend. Hopfer represented the Umpqua district.
“I was surprised,” she said last week while sitting within arm’s reach of one of her Gelbvieh calves at the Douglas County Fair. “It’s very rare for a kid with a livestock project to win that award. Most of the time the winner is a kid on a huge ranch or a huge farm with a lot of opportunities and resources. The fact I was able to win with something I started, something I raised, was a huge surprise to me.
“In my interview, my passion for what I’m doing really came through,” she added. “I really believe in it, and I plan to continue with it.”
Hopfer said she decided on the Gelbvieh breed because the animals are docile. “They weren’t going to beat up a fourth-grade girl,” she said.
The Gelbvieh breed originated in the mid-18th century in Bavaria, Germany. Several breeds of German cattle were bred into what would eventually be the Gelbvieh, which means yellow or gold cattle in German. The breed is known for its easy growth, quick maturity and docility.
Hopfer said there are only 20 to 30 purebred Gelbvieh herds in the Pacific Northwest and winning awards and recognition with the breed is another way to market the animals.
Hopfer called the Star Farmer the “ultimate award.”
“I’m not sure how long it has been since somebody from Douglas County has been able to bring that award home, but it has made me feel very, very proud,” she said.
Emily’s father, Mark Hopfer, said as far as he and others he has asked can remember, the Star Farmer honor had never been awarded to a Douglas County student. Mark Hopfer was the FFA adviser at Days Creek High School for 38 years before retiring three years ago.
“Emily just put in a lot of work and effort to build up an amazing project,” her father said. “She put a lot of hours into developing it. It’s basically one of FFA’s highest honors.”
Emily Hopfer, a 2014 graduate of Days Creek, has 28 head of Gelbvieh cows, calves and bulls, and also 10 cross-bred ewes and one Boer goat.
“It’s kind of like potato chips … you can’t just have one,” she said. “Between my cattle and sheep, I’ve got about $90,000 in my project.”
Emily Hopfer has grown up on the family’s H4 Ranch near Days Creek. Before she began to establish her herd, her father had a small cow operation. But as Emily Hopfer’s herd has grown, her father’s herd has decreased and is now down to about a handful of cows.
In addition to managing her animals, the young woman has helped on the H4 Ranch with irrigating pastures and putting up hay.
This fall Emily Hopfer will leave the ranch and her animals and attend Oregon State University in Corvallis. She plans to major in agricultural business. Her parents and her younger sister, Brooke, the owner of 80 ewes, will look after the Gelbviehs.
Emily Hopfer said between her livestock fund and her scholarships, she has enough money to cover expenses for her first two years at OSU. The Star Farmer award included $300.
“Being named Star Farmer definitely helped with getting some agricultural scholarships for college,” she said.
She added that once she graduates, she hopes to eventually get a place where she can continue to raise Gelbviehs.
• News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.