Cattlemen’s Boot Camp: back to the basics
(First Appeared in the March 2 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
Ninety beef producers representing nine different states, some as far away as Wyoming and Iowa, came together recently at the Fayette County Extension Office for a two-day Cattlemen’s Boot Camp, co-sponsored by the American Angus Association, the Angus Foundation and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
The educational event offers a broad overview of Angus and commercial cattle production that helps growers begin to think more about the industry as a whole and how the various elements work together, rather than just the day to day challenges of raising beef cattle.
“A lot of people, myself included, we get wrapped up in what we’re doing every day to produce our animals,” according to Alex Tolbert of Harrodsburg, a regional manager for the American Angus Association. “Every decision we make affects our consumer and the quality of their eating experience. How does that affect my decisions at home?”
To that end, Boot Camp participants heard from chefs and meat scientists about the cuts and quality that consumers desire and expect. Veterinarians, animal scientists and nutrition and forage experts talked about those day to day issues of keeping an animal nourished and healthy. Then, marketing analysts and financial planners addressed the business aspects of raising and selling cattle.
Tolbert says that for many producers, especially those that are involved on a small scale, caring for their animals is something they enjoy, so they may not always think of it as a business.
“We’re really good at raising cattle or corn or whatever it is that we farm,” he observed. “A lot of times we don’t fully understand or master running a business.”
Situations like the current lull in cattle markets underscore the necessity of being more business-like in the management of beef operations, Tolbert said. “We go over the basics, kind of the general thought processes of developing a business plan to keep the bank off your back and stay in business another year.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service confirmed in a recent report that Kentucky continues to maintain the largest cattle inventory east of the Mississippi. Tolbert said that didn’t hurt when the Angus Association was considering where to hold one of this year’s two Boot Camps.
“We try to move them around to provide service and education for producers all over the country” he explained. “This is the largest one that we’ve had to date and part of that is because of where we are.”
While operations in western states are typically larger, the eastern U.S. boasts more individual producers. That, combined with the reputation and success of Kentucky’s extension service helped to attract participants, Tolbert said.
“These folks are eager to learn,” Tolbert noted. “They had to pay to come here and that shows their interest in learning more and becoming better at what they do.”
The second Cattlemen’s Boot Camp of 2017 will be April 27-28 at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.