By Tessa Baker
It’s been a busy year for Tag Thompson. He bought his first tractor, using money he earned from selling his steers. He farmed his first field, signing a contract with Briess Malt & Ingredients for his 10 acres of barley. He also paid off a loan that had helped finance the purchase of his first two cows while continuing to raise cattle through his own company.
And he turned 12 years old.
For the ambitious young farmer, agriculture is a way of life.
“I was born into a farm family,” Thompson said. “They’ve told me I don’t have to choose agriculture, but I’ve always been interested in farming. I finally got to be a part of the farm more and more every year, and I kind of just merged into it.”
When he was 5 years old, Thompson started showing goats and chickens at the Park County Fair. He wanted to continue with chickens, but the fair’s poultry show happens at the same time steers are shown.
“I can’t sell a chicken [at the Junior Livestock Sale], so I’d have to do what I could sell, so I chose steers,” Thompson said.
Steers require a lot of time and investment as a 4-H project, and for Thompson, it’s become a daily commitment throughout the year. Rather than just taking on one or two steers, he had greater ambitions and founded Tag Thompson Cattle Co. in 2020. His brand — T slash inverted T — represents his initials, TNT.
“He wanted his own brand, because he paid for his own calves,” explained Maria Berchtold, Thompson’s mom.
NILE Merit Heifer
Thompson’s herd currently includes one bull, two calves, two cows and one heifer. He soon will be adding to his herd, as he recently was named a NILE Merit heifer recipient for 2022. Through the NILE Merit Heifer Program, breeders donate a heifer to each youth and then mentor them.
“I think the mentorship is just as cool as winning the heifer,” Berchtold said.
Christensen Red Angus of Park City, Montana, is donating a heifer to Thompson and serving as his mentor. After an entire year of lessons, conference calls and monthly reports, Thompson will show at the 2022 NILE and then take full ownership of the animal.
Thompson is one of 19 youth selected for the 2022 Nile Merit Heifer Program, and one of only two recipients from Wyoming.
Youth between the ages of 12 and 16 are selected based on their merit, future goals, commitment to agriculture and ability to care for the animal.
Thompson’s commitment to agriculture is unwavering.
“This is my lifestyle,” he said.
In his application for the NILE Merit program, Thompson said that “cows are my world.”
“But I would like to add on to that — agriculture and cattle are my world,” he said.
Thompson would like to make stickers of the slogan. Through Tag Thompson Cattle Co., he already sells stickers and hats bearing his brand, and he hopes to sell other merchandise.
The young farmer is setting high goals for his business, hoping to one day become nationally known. Thompson would like to raise registered seedstock, and sell his bulls and heifers at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he can talk with more people about his company.
He wants to see Tag Thompson Cattle Co. continue to expand, without going into too much debt so that he can “make a good financial future for myself in the cattle industry.”
In addition, Thompson wants to keep the family farm’s legacy going. The 12-year-old is in it for the long haul.
“I want to grow old with this company,” Thompson said.
First field, first tractor
Earlier this year, Thompson’s grandparents, Steve and Julie Thompson, leased him 10 acres to farm south of Powell. Thompson contracted with Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. and planted barley. He worked with Farm Credit Services of America to insure his crop.
“Something cool about that is, they said I’m the youngest person to buy crop insurance in Wyoming,” Thompson said. “I would say that’s an achievement for me.”
Throughout the summer, he did all of the field work, and finished watering the field for a final time right before the Park County Fair.
After harvesting the barley on Aug. 10, Thompson stood in the field as the sun was setting, and he said he felt a little sad.
“I grew this all summer, and it’s just emotional for the first time,” he said in a video posted on Facebook.
Thompson hired his grandpa to bale the straw and then found buyers. He carefully tracks his revenue and expenses, and saves for big purchases. Berchtold helps Thompson manage his finances, and she said her son’s entrepreneurial spirit was evident at a young age.
“He was selling buckets of water at a barrel race when he was about 4 or 5 years old,” Berchtold said with a laugh.
One of his largest investments yet came in the spring: his own tractor.
Thompson had hoped to buy a tractor before his 12th birthday in May, but it was hard to find an older model he could afford.
“I started to give up, and then I saw this one in town,” Thompson said. “Grandpa said it was a good buy, and I thought it was a good buy.”
The International 986 was in Thompson’s price range, and he bought the tractor in March.
“Her name is Reba, because she’s red,” he said.
Thompson has a knack for coming up with creative names for the cattle and equipment on the farm. There’s Beastbine the combine, inspired by a YouTube video. Thompson has christened calves Friendo Nintendo and Fatticus. A steer he showed at the 2019 fair was named BenJammin Franklin Rodriguez the 3rd Cubit.
This year, he kept things simple with his market steers: Frank and Chuck.
Thompson is finishing his fourth year with the Lonestar League 4-H Club, and he stays busy with a variety of activities. Earlier this year, he learned to weld, and completed his first welding project for the Park County Fair. At the 2021 event, he also had projects in agronomy, veterinary science, public speaking and fashion, modeling in the 4-H Fashion Revue.
Thompson took a Limousin heifer and two market steers — Frank and Chuck — to this year’s fair, and sold Frank at the Junior Livestock Sale. Dick and Cody Eastman, who own Lesco Enterprises, purchased Thompson’s steer.
In his 4-H record book, Thompson included pictures of the first show he attended with Frank, and then saying goodbye after the final show. After spending hours a day caring for his steers and becoming attached to the livestock, Thompson gets emotional when talking about the goodbyes. It’s the hardest part of the job, but one that he accepts.
“I raise them to show and get attached to, but also to feed a family,” he said. “That’s what Frank went to, and that’s what Chuck went to — they fed a family.”
Leading up to the fair, Thompson worked hard to invite buyers to the Junior Livestock Sale, delivering invitations to local businesses. With the slogan, “The Tradition Lives On,” the invites included a picture of his Great-Great Grandma Blackburn at the Park County Fair in the early 1960s, as well as photos of his Grandpa Steve, Grandma Julie and his mom.
Thompson appreciates the lessons he has learned from his parents and grandparents, as well as other family members and friends. He spends a lot of time farming with his grandpa.
“I want to farm with him as long as I can and learn from him,” Thompson said.
As Thompson gets older, his responsibilities also grow.
“This year I stepped up even on Grandpa’s land more than I ever have,” he said. “I can’t do as much as Mom or Grandpa. I can do everything I can, but I can’t do as much.”
Berchtold said they don’t want Thompson to work all the time — they also want him to have fun and be a kid.
While he gets together with friends and plays video games like most kids his age, oftentimes, Thompson can be found on the farm.
“It’s just my job — that’s all I have to say,” he said. “It’s just what I do.”