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Real Animals Inspire Montana Author's Children's Books


Jay Hahnkamp is an unlikely children’s author. He’s a rancher with a small place near southwest Montana, and he has two children’s books to his name.

His most recent book carries a simple message: no matter the obstacles in life, a child can strive to be whatever he or she wants to be. This message is carried by the author’s real-life cow and best friend the goat.  

Hahnkamp draws inspiration for his books from the animals on his small ranch in Beaverhead County near Glen which is between Dillon and Butte.

One source is a calf named Sara, the inspiration for My Name is Sara: I’m a Racehorse. 

“Cattle are like people," said Hahnkamp. "There’s personalities and all sorts of different things that you notice about these cattle. And this calf was always in the way, always in something, always wanting everything to follow her and she always gets in a bind.”

It’s a story that sends a message that despite limitations or problems, a child can do whatever he or she thinks is possible. Just like Sara.

“This little calf was not a racehorse at all,” Hahnkamp said. “She was never going to be a racehorse but she thought she was and nobody could tell her otherwise.”

Just like in the book, real Sara has a goat named Jerry as her best friend. 

"Jerry is like Sara and likes running things and kind of runs Sara,” admitted  Hahnkamp. 

This is Hahnkamp's second children’s book.  His first one, My Pony Bucks…My Dad Says So…, is based on an experience his oldest son had when the boy was four. He is now about to graduate from high school.

That book took about ten minutes to write but nearly a decade to get into print because he needed find an illustrator to draw what Hahnkamp had in mind.

Now that he has an illustrator, more books about Sara and Jerry are a possibility.

“They get out occasionally and go on a big trip, and people call saying your cow and your goat are down here at the dump,” said Hahnkamp. “Everybody kind of looks out for her. I mean it’s not like she’s running down the highway. But she’ll get a wild hair and just decide to go on a walkabout and the goat decides to go with her.  It’s not. You always see if… you don’t know if the cow’s out somewhere but then you see the goat with her and that’s Sara."

Hahnkamp’s two books are available in many local Montana bookstores and some gift shops. It's always available through his publisher Farcountry Press.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.