Growing up amidst Wisconsin’s dairy lands, Amanda Kooiker probably didn’t imagine she’d one day be a team roper in Arizona whose work involves finding nutritional solutions for all types of animals, from heifers and calves to any number of exotic animals that populate the country’s zoos.

“I’ve been so lucky,” Kooiker said. “You just never know what path it’s going to take you down. There’s always something new and exciting.”

The 35-year-old, 4.5 heeler, just moved to Arizona this past fall to fill an available position with Purina, though she has a long history with the company.

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Amanda Kooiker, Rancho Rio

April 2020 covergirl Amanda Kooiker is taking full advantage of her new position with Purina in Arizona.

“I actually interned with Purina; that’s how I got my foot in the door. It was an awesome experience. I’d encourage everybody that is of college age to at least look at them, whether or not they plan on going into the ag industry. They’re a big company, so pretty much anything you want to do, you can do it with them. But going to the research farm and seeing a lot of what they’re working on down there is pretty cool. And, they treat you really good, too.”

When Kooiker graduated with her degree in dairy sciences, she found work with another company, but quickly realized that Purina had set the bar high when it came to what she could expect from an employer and it wasn’t long before she found her way back to them.

She moved to Minnesota, where Purina’s parent company, Land O’Lakes, is headquartered.

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“I was pretty specialized up there. During my internship, I had done a lot of calf and heifer type stuff. I did a little bit of everything when I came back to the company. I moved back to Minnesota and that’s where I met my husband, Kirk (with whom she took first place in the #10.5 Megabucks at the Rancho Rio 5000 in January, earning the couple $2,130 for pulling four tight in 39.48 seconds). We lived in the southwest corner, right by Sioux Falls.”

Kooiker was initiated into roping in college, but she says it became a part of her lifestyle in Minnesota.

“I really have probably learned the most from my husband. He’s taught me a lot about roping, especially horsemanship. We used to have to travel a ways to rope. In the summer, there was a lot of local jackpots, but to get to anything of good size, we roped in South Dakota quite a bit. We were right on the border there and we’d usually have to head west or south to get to any of them. If it was four hours away, we went because it was close. Now, down here, if it’s more than like 40 minutes, it’s too far. You get spoiled!”

Kooiker does still get to cover the miles, though, thanks to her expanded expertise and role with Purina.

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“In the last few years, probably five to six years, I’ve been very specialized in young animal [nutrition], so a lot of baby calves, and calf and heifer, and dairy beef, up to about 400 or 500 pounds. I work along with our cattle teams and dairy teams, and I’ve always kept up to speed on the horse part of it for my own interests, but there is a lot more equine here because half the country is here all winter long and it’s a big part of the business.

“I was at the Arabian show all last week and, today, I’m working with our specialty team. It’s called Mazuri [Exotic Animal Nutrition], and they feed like 99% of the zoos across the country. We’re going to meet with a couple of the zoos in the Phoenix area today and make sure we’re providing them with all the specialty diets and stuff that they need.”

And while Kooiker may now be able to determine how to best meet the dietary needs of a Gila monster (a venomous lizard native to the southwest), she also has some sound input for folks feeding roping cattle and horses.

“For cattle, for sure a good mineral program. A bag of minerals, it seems expensive, but it’s a really small feed rate and, if you ever saw the chart of how all the minerals interact, it’s really so essential. Especially down here, the forage is tough, so if you can utilize the forage you do have available to keep the condition on your animals, you’re going to increase the longevity of them. And, we all know how expensive they are, so, if we can keep them going a little bit longer, your returns [increase.] It’s a no brainer.

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“Then, on the horses, a horse that’s fat and shiny just on hay or on pasture, that’s not the same as healthy or optimal performance. For example, a lot of the protein in forage is wasted. We’ve all been in that barn that’s feeding a lot of alfalfa and it smells like it’s all coming back out in ammonia. Most of the protein absorption and a lot of the other things happen in the foregut of the horse, but the forage isn’t digested until the hindgut. So, even supplementing with a ration balance or just a low feed rate—it’s usually a higher protein type product—it will provide the protein you need to capture everything out of that hay, plus provide their vitamins and minerals. And, it’s more cost effective.”

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Kooiker’s waste-not-want-not approach doesn’t just apply to the products she stands behind, either. She regularly optimizes the time she spends traveling between clients by listening to sports psychology audio books, which she uses to improve her mental game in the arena and in her career.

“I think it’s helped my roping a lot. And I think it’s helped my job, too. There are so many similarities if you’re growing, whether that’s in your roping career or your professional career. I try to work on both.

Amanda Kooiker, Rancho Rio

Kooiker heels a steer at the 2020 World Series of Team Roping Title Fights at Rancho Rio in Wickenburg, Arizona, for Colorado's JoAnn Merritt.

“I’ve read your articles and a lot of those guys mention Mind Gym and all of those books. I’ve read all of them. I try to really do what they recommend you do. They say you’re physically working out, you’re practicing your sport, but you need to practice the pressure situations and the mental parts of it, as well, so I’ve got a bunch of notes in my phone and, when I’m preparing to compete, I might go through those notes to get my mind in the right spot. Or if I’m starting to feel nervous, I have a note for that, to get focused and get my head back in the game. That kind of thing.

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“I also try to go to at least one roping a year. I just went to a Jake-and-Clay clinic right over New Years, so I’m always trying to work on the fundamentals.”

Kooiker’s determination to work on everything from the basics of roping to the more cerebral aspects of competition is yet another indicator of why she’s poised for success in her career as an animal nutritionist.

“I’m excited about my job. It’s fun to be able to combine my passion at my job with my passions outside of it, like competing and roping and stuff. I really feel good about the company I work for. Land O Lakes is a food company and its consumers get bombarded with a lot of misinformation and, rather than just jumping on what’s popular or trending, the company tries to actually educate consumers. They’re a research company, but they’re also trying to educate people because there’s nothing magical you can put in a bag—it comes down to management of your program and this is one tool to help you. It’s big picture and it makes you feel good working for a company like that.” 

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