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Lakewood Ranch senior ready to move onto bigger pastures

Ryann Hilyer, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, plans to continue to pursuing her love for agriculture and cows in college.

Ryann Hilyer, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, shows Mallo, a heifer owned by Todd Henson.
Ryann Hilyer, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, shows Mallo, a heifer owned by Todd Henson.
Courtesy photo
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Ryann Hilyer remembers going out to the barn at Carlos E. Haile Middle School when she was in sixth grade. 

She had always loved animals, but her mind always went to dogs and cats when she thought of them. 

It wasn’t until she was in Haile’s barn looking at a dairy cow that she realized she could have a career in agriculture and working with animals. 

“I realized, wow, this is what I want to do,” Hilyer said. “This is something different.”

In eighth grade, she decided to raise a dairy cow to show at the Manatee County Fair. She finally dipped her toe into the world of agriculture, and since then, she hasn’t looked back. 

Ryann Hilyer, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, will continue pursuing her passion for agriculture at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College after graduation.
Amy Young

Hilyer’s experiences going out to the barn at least twice per day for the past four years caring for dairy cows and steer have inspired her to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, after graduating from Lakewood Ranch High School May 18. 

After showing a dairy cow in eighth grade, Hilyer went on to be a part of the agriculture program and FFA chapter at Lakewood Ranch High School, showing dairy cows and steer at the fair while learning about the various aspects of agriculture.

“Knowing there’s other people who are around you that want the same goals and the same things as you definitely made me feel like I have a family here, especially when I came into the Lakewood Ranch FFA barn,” Hilyer said. “It’s not just a barn, it’s a whole team.”

She fell in love with the agriculture industry and in particular, cows. 

“Agriculture has definitely changed my life,” Hilyer said. “I feel like I’ve changed from being the scared little kid in my freshman year who sat in the back of the class to being the first one to raise my hand and answer any question and being the first one to say I’ll get in the pens and help.”

Hilyer spent her senior year taking care of Ryker, a steer. She spent her days building a bond with him to the point that she could call him and he would run from the pasture to where she was in the barn like a dog running to its owner. 

“They’re your partner and you treat them like your partner,” she said. “You work with them every day, and they will always hold a special place in my heart.”

McKenzie Gorskey, an agri-science teacher and FFA adviser, said Hilyer is passionate, driven, motivated and a team player. 

“I have yet to work with a student who is so eager to make Lakewood a team like her,” she said. “Literally up into her last days, she’s like, ‘we’re a team.’ I think that drive is something that will carry her, especially as she develops a new passion in her life, not just in high school.”

Hilyer, who is the president of the FFA chapter this school year, was given a leadership award at the chapter’s award banquet. Gorskey said she choked up as she presented the award to Hilyer knowing how far she’s come as a student and seeing how she’s grown as a leader. 

“Going from being the newbie to being the expert is just, to me, capturing her presence in the program and what she’s done,” Gorskey said. “We grow leaders, so she’s a trifecta. “She can speak publicly, she can show livestock, she can run an officer meeting, she can do anything…. There are so many good leaders at this school, but the FFA is blessed to have some of the best. Their mark and their impacts on the chapter will forever be remembered.”

McKenzie Gorskey, a Lakewood Ranch High School agri-science teacher and FFA adviser, says Ryann Hilyer, a senior, is passionate, driven and motivated to advocate for agriculture.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Hilyer said being a part of the school’s FFA chapter and agriculture program has helped her gain skills in areas she never expected such as speech. Her junior year she participated in a speech contest for the Farm Bureau, which she had never done before. She did not like speaking in front of people, but she worked on it and became more confident. She won third place in the contest.

She learned about horticulture, how to do injections in animals, how to tag animals and more. 

Hilyer said even if she wasn’t pursuing a career in agriculture, she’s grateful for the knowledge she gained.

“Another thing that really intrigued me was learning where your food comes from, like they say, ‘from pasture to plate,’” she said. “It made me have an understanding of agriculture and where your food comes from, where all your byproducts come from. It just makes me a more educated consumer in the future and helps me advocate for myself and other people in the industry.”

Hilyer plans to major in livestock production but is considering going to elementary education with a focus on agriculture to become an agriculture elementary teacher. She said she likes working with kids, and elementary school is the first opportunity they have to be exposed to agriculture. 

“You’re the first one to spark their interest, and I think it’s important that we have people who love it just as much as I do in that role,” Hilyer said. “If you love it and you are interested, you speak about it with confidence. That will catch them and spark their interest as well.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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