Monday, August 11, 2014

FFA, 4-H leader adds reindeer to her repertoire

Incoming University of Alaska Fairbanks freshman Taylor Armstrong caused quite a stir at the Tanana Valley State Fair. Every time she took her reindeer, Merlin, for a walk crowds gathered to admire him and ask Armstrong questions.

In the livestock auction Aug. 8, Merlin sold for $9 per pound on the hoof. In the past, Armstrong has raised turkeys, hens, guinea pigs, cows, a potbelly pig, an alpaca, ducks and geese. “Everything except horses,” she said.
Taylor Armstrong with Merlin at the Tanana Valley State Fair.

Choosing a reindeer for her last year in 4-H seemed like a “neat opportunity.” She bought a six-month-old calf last October from Williams Reindeer Farm in Palmer and got advice from UAF Reindeer Research Program researcher George Aguiar as she took care of Merlin.

Raising a reindeer has brought new emotional challenges she didn’t face with other animals, Armstrong said. “You have to create a trust and a bond,” she explained. “When he was castrated I had to stand back.” She would recommend reindeer projects for older 4-Hers and FFA students but doesn’t think younger children would understand the emotional complexities. “It’s a unique project and it was a lot of fun,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong has been active in North Pole Ptarmigans 4-H Club for 11 years and FFA for seven. The recent North Pole High School graduate is the Alaska FFA state president and will represent the state at the national FFA convention in Louisville, Kentucky, this fall.

Involvement in 4-H and FFA has kept Armstrong working with animals and steered her career choice. “They have helped me develop leadership skills exponentially,” she said. “And helped me branch out and become better organized.” Recalling her childhood, Armstrong said she was a shy kid until 4-H and FFA helped her become more confident.

This fall, Armstrong will attend UAF to study natural resources management. She wanted to stay in Alaska to fulfill her FFA commitment and she was intrigued when UAF began planning a veterinary school partnership with Colorado State University.

Armstrong wants to grow FFA in Alaska and make excellent grades in college. “I want to be a large animal veterinarian, stay in Alaska and give back to my community,” she said.

She won the top scholarship of $15,000 from Golden Valley Electric Association and the UAF Cornerstone, Ford FFA, Emblem Club, Tanana Valley District 4-H and the Derek Stenroos scholarships. She also received the Alaska Performance scholarship and the UA Scholars award. “I worked really hard,” Armstrong said.

She credits her 4-H leader, Nancy Graff, her mother, Jill Armstrong, and North Pole High FFA leaders, Cheryl Sanders and Calib Krepps, for helping her tremendously. “My family has been a huge influence,” she added.

In her free time, Armstrong enjoys hunting, shooting and four-wheeling, “all the outdoor stuff.”

Taylor Armstrong in the show ring with Merlin at the Tanana Valley State Fair.

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