Story by Elaine Caton                                                                                                      Blackfoot Challenge Education Program Coordinator

On September 27, local ranchers and Blackfoot Challenge staff provided a day of hands-on learning at the Rolling Stone Ranch in Ovando for the annual Blackfoot Challenge Youth Field Day.  The theme of the event this year was Ranching and Stewardship, with more than 100 students from Lincoln, Helmville, Ovando, Sunset and Potomac schools attending.  Students rotated through seven learning stations for half an hour at each, getting a glimpse of some of the many diverse management activities involved in running a ranch while stewarding the land. 

The stations provided serious content in some fun ways.  Leigh and Kyle Kelley from the Paws Up Ranch demonstrated how they rely on their well-trained border collies (all five of them!) to herd their cattle.  Blackfoot Challenge Water Steward Clancy Jandreau used a sand and running water trailer to help students explore hydrology, stream health, and riparian protection.  Blackfoot Challenge Land Steward Brad Weltzein had students plan how to graze a field based on calculations of available forage, and Erica Mannix of Helmville’s Mannix Brothers Ranch helped students understand the complexity of soil health and how good grazing and other management actions affect that.  Jodi Wills of the Blackfoot Valley Cattlewomen from Potomac taught students about various foods’ agricultural origins and nutrition, using a giant cloth hamburger! 

Blackfoot Challenge Wildlife Coordinator Eric Graham teamed up with rancher Jamie Stitt of Helmville and her livestock guardian dog Moose to 

Students learn about healthy soils from rancher Erica Mannix.

teach students about all the tools available to keep bears away from people, their livestock, and their residences.  Rancher Camille Coughlin of Helmville provided students with the opportunity to practice shooting a vaccine gun while learning about keeping a herd of cows healthy.

The day was a great success, thanks to these talented and knowledgeable people who were willing to spend the day passing along some of their knowledge and understanding to the future stewards of the Blackfoot watershed.