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CSU Seedstock Team learning the ropes at the NWSS

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post
The CSU Seedstock Marketing Team has three bred Hereford heifers on display, plus an alternate, in the Yards at the NWSS.
Photo by Liz Banman Munstertieger

The National Western Stock Show Yards are brimming with history and cattlemen with the wisdom won through hard years and experience. The business of selling seedstock doesn’t begin or end with the stock on display in the Yards, many of the ranches are selling their reputation built on generations of genetics.

The Colorado State University Seedstock Team hit the show ring Friday in the American Hereford Association shows, earning Champion Pen of Three Spring Yearling Heifers.

The team has traditionally displayed bulls and heifers, the cornerstone of a two-semester course designed to teach students the art of seedstock marketing. Though a year of experience gives only an overview of the process, it can help guide students as they find their niche in the industry.

Sam Cunningham, an associate professor of agriculture is originally from the Sandhills of Nebraska and began coaching the team last fall and is at the National Western Stock Show displaying four — a pen of three and an alternate — Hereford heifers and guiding six young women through the process. The young women come from varied backgrounds in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Colorado, Washington and Ohio.

“This week I hope they’re learning things like the art and importance of presentation, both of themselves and the pen — basically our stage — and the livestock,” Cunningham said.

The importance of a strong handshake, eye contact, and an introduction are being taught by each visitor to the pen, some of whom are Ram alumni and have made a point to report to Cunningham on the strengths of her students.

At semester’s start, Cunningham and the students pored over the data and then walked through the cattle, all the while learning about selection with a production sale as the end result. The group sorted through Angus and Hereford bulls, Angus and Hereford heifers, and cow calf pairs, all part of the CSU ARDEC herd, finally choosing three bred Hereford heifers due to calve in April.

“With the transition of the program on campus this year, we opted for a strong push in quality of presentation and emphasizing the importance of a breeder selecting the very best of the best to display,” she said. “You’re going to bring the best of the best, whether that’s six or 16. You’re going to bring something representative of your best genetics.”

PREPARING FOR THE SALE

While in Denver, the students have been promoting the bull sale, slated for Tuesday, Feb. 22 at the CSU ARDEC facility. Those who have hosted a bull sale know the amount of work and preparation outside of producing the sale cattle, and the students are partnering with others in the animal science program and ARDEC to work through the bull and bred female sale production calendar. Advertising, marketing, data, catalog, sale animal preparation, sale facility set up, and other details are playing a part in rounding out the students’ experience.

Bulls in this sale are summered on high altitude pasture near Hesparus where they’re grown and PAP tested before returning to ARDEC in the fall and placed on a bull development ration and managed with the intent and hope that they will be lauded for sale.

“Also different this year from previous years, this group of students is going to be involved in the CSU Beef Improvement Facility Sale we host in Saratoga in April,” she said.

That sale is ranch-developed commercial Angus bulls that have been altitude tested by CSU’s Dr. Tim Holt. Working through sale selection and preparation for the two sales, each very different than the other, is a unique experience for the students.

As the spring semester wears on, the focus will shift to seedstock selection and mating decisions. This portion, she said, relies on area producers who speak to the students virtually or in person, sharing their breeding and marketing philosophies, the history of the program, and lessons from a lifetime in the business.

At the end of the day, the experience comes full circle through the students’ interaction with those in the industry, especially those whose roles may look like something to strive toward. One Ram alumna from Canada took time to speak to the young women, telling them about her experience as a woman in the cattle industry.

“I wish I would have recorded her when she said it because you and I have talked about it, we have thought it, and it was that yes, we can cook dinner and make things pretty, but there’s lots of other things we can do to generate value,” she said.

Finding a place as a woman and within those traditional roles is attainable, she said, but creating a space as a woman in agriculture is also attainable.

“I hope they’re seeing the value in the relationships and the networking, and the hustle it takes,” she said. “They’re not all going to do this — I don’t know that one of them will do this later — but I hope they get the importance of follow through and they see the risk and the reward and they develop a sense of pride in something. The relationships they’re building between themselves are important, too.”

The cattle marketing is but one of the many lessons learned beneath the catwalk in the Yards, an old landmark, steeped in history, teaching a new batch of young people lessons once again. F



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