Teen learns how to farm while lending a helping hand
May 24, 2018
School's out for summer — or is it? There's still a lot to learn, even on those red-hot vacation days, and at least one young, quick-study is a year-round sponge for all things ag.
Jordan Hiller is a fledgling farmer, who has been soliciting additional summer employment through fliers he has posted on rural bulletin boards including at Centennial Livestock Auction in Fort Collins, Colo. He seeks to absorb every bit of knowledge available about all things farm and ranch.
The 15-year-old Pierce, Colo., boy's rural hopes were initially a family dream that his mother Jenny and step-father (who he refers to as dad), Michael Bottoms, shared with their four children while residing on a three-acre Berthoud property. Ten-year-old Jordan had already displayed a keen interest in the growing process, every step from seed to fruit and the importance of healthy soil. Their small acreage had enough land for a good-sized garden but the HOA prohibited chickens. That just wouldn't do.
When he was 12, young Hiller helped out a neighboring farmer just down the street, determined to learn the ropes.
"I did more listening than anything else and did some odds and ends as well," Hiller recalled.
During the winter holiday season 2015, the family moved from their tiny Berthoud farmette to 90 acres near Pierce. The timing seemed fitting since Jordan was born on Christmas day. What a nice birthday present.
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Then, just two months later, another special delivery arrived, this time at the post office: Buckeye chickens (luckily a cold-tolerant breed). Over time, the little flock grew larger to include the current 25 laying hens.
"We get bombarded with eggs," Hiller proudly proclaimed.
While most of the hens' hard-shelled handiwork is sold, some of the bounty fluffs up family recipes, too. Hiller's mother has earned the nickname "Burrito Lady" for her quick and portable tortilla-wrapped egg sandwiches.
As do most sons, he of course loves her cooking but equally enjoys competing at poultry shows with his chickens. One of his hens, The Missus, won her class at the American Class in the Colorado Poultry Association Spring Show in April 2018. Equally impressive is that the novice showman's two roosters also placed; prize rooster, Boss Man, was Reserve Champion.
Hiller plans to attend two to three more shows each year. He and his younger brother, 4-year-old Benjamin Bottoms, will be attending a poultry showmanship workshop this summer to learn more about care/handling and disease recognition/prevention.
"I believe gaining knowledge in animal husbandry is important and should start early." Hiller said.
On a larger scale, as livestock goes, Black Angus cows joined the menagerie about 18 months ago. Their numbers now include 12 cows, 11 calves and a bull. Hiller eagerly described his equally growing list of chores.
"In the winter, I feed hay mostly every morning. I also help tag our calves, help administer shots, help rotate the hay, clean the pens and help on round-ups with my lasso."
Certainly sounds like he has the hang of it. A previous, very brief stint with the Wellington Owls 4-H club gave him additional working knowledge about poultry and training dogs. (Hiller has an Australian Shepherd female, Bear, whose working skills he hopes to augment with future show experience.)
Hiller has been home-schooled beginning just this past school year. He's really enjoyed the experience thus far because of the flexibility it allows his farm schedule and the added time he has to interact with his family.
"I loved being home with our animals and, since my dad is a home builder, I was able to not only work with him but to be a farm hand at home and on several other farms as well," Hiller said.
Mom, Jenny, is understandably proud of her son's expanding talents. She said that he's learning carpentry skills by helping build all of the poultry coops, runs and nest boxes. On his own, he built mobile cages ideal for backyard chickens.
"He manages our Buckeye chicken population from birth to maturity," she said. "In fact, we call him the Chicken Meister."
Following his parents' vision for sustainability on their "Prairie Ann Homestead," Jordan helps in all phases of the family garden. He's even created his own personal plot, consisting of melons, squash and occasionally pumpkins.
"Jordan has learned so much about animal husbandry, working hard on a farm, carpentry skills, gardening and being a wonderful son." Bottoms said. "He is following in the footsteps of his dad. He works hard and shows respect to anyone he meets, he is detailed and humble. He respects animals and enjoys the whole process of living on a small farm."
As a big brother, Hiller became a tutor as well as student.
"I teach my younger siblings animal husbandry with poultry," he said. "All of us have our own chores and play an integral part in our farm. My 12-year-old sister, Jessica, and I both have our own chores; my little brothers, Benjamin and Levi, will also watch us and learn. Other times, we do chores together and we can get stuff done."
Part of that "stuff" might soon include dryland farming "once we get the right equipment," Hiller said.
If manners, courtesy and respect are the right equipment as far as social interaction goes, this young man already has what it takes. His conversations are automatically laced with "ma'am" and "sir," and the courteous titles are genuine, not forced or stiff. When asked if he immediately felt at-home after moving to the large acreage, that respect immediately came through.
"Yes ma'am, I enjoy working with all types of animals all the time. I remember being so excited to get our 20 chickens, and now we have grown our operation to 25 laying hens, two breeding roosters, 13 meat birds, five turkeys, and four turkey chicks."
Incredible in our casually abrupt, lol, bff, sometimes downright rude and otherwise social media-crazed society. A teen not glued 24/7 to a Smartphone is a most unique and refreshing individual indeed.
"My parents have instilled strong character traits in my upbringing: hard working, being respectable, listening, team player, understanding, honest and always eager to learn," Hiller said. "I'm highly-motivated and enjoy working on farms. I also have a broad skill set for gardening, raising chickens, shop/carpentry work and hay hauling. I'm dependable and I see the job through with all of my heart."
If that almost sounds like a resume it's because it is. Hiller is seeking part-time farmhand work in the Pierce area. He wants to absorb as much ag information and experience as possible.
A down-the-road neighbor, Virgil Taylor, owns two black Percheron draft horses. In 2017, Hiller accompanied them to the Eternal Hope Equestrian Centre Training Show and Fundraiser in Wellington, Colo. Serving as apprentice groom and assistant, he was thrilled when Taylor's team took first and second place ribbons. Hiller happily anticipates participating in multiple similar shows this year, possibly even driving Mike and Max in youth classes.
After just 2½ years on the family's 90-acres, this impressive teen has developed a clear vision for his future.
"I plan to always live on a farm because it is such a better way of life and you are so much more sustainable," he said. "I love raising and taking care of all kinds of animals. With my family and the farm, you really can't get much better. It is so diverse and such a great learning experience."
Expressing a philosophy absolutely contrary to many of his peers' issues with boredom and substance abuse issues he continued, "One of the greatest reasons I enjoy farm life is the fact that you're always busy and you don't have time to get into trouble. So I guess you could say I'm addicted to the farm life."
Anyone near Pierce who would like to chat with this reliable young man about lending a hand on their farm or ranch can call Jordan Hiller at (720) 308-0089. ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.