Molding Future Cattle Producers and Agricultural Leaders
Young people interested in learning more about beef cattle have a new option, thanks to Alabama 4-H. Alabama 4-H’s Market Steer program is similar to the traditional steer program, but focuses on teaching students about the cattle industry.
Dr. Molly Gregg, assistant director of Alabama 4-H, said Market Steer was developed to allow more youth an opportunity to experience one of Alabama’s greatest agrarian traditions – raising beef cattle.
"Alabama families and youth have been looking to 4-H to provide an affordable and educational steer project to train young people in the challenges and opportunities of developing a quality product in support for the future of agriculture and food production," Gregg said.
Danny McWilliams, Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator for Colbert County, said this program was modeled after the 4-H programs of Chick Chain and Pig Squeal.
"Our primary goal was to create a model similar to Chick Chain and Pig Squeal and to educate our youth about the commercial cattle industry in Alabama," McWilliams explained. "The amount of success these programs have had was reason enough to keep the beef project simple."
Alex Tigue, an Extension regional agent, said, while Market Steer resembles other programs, there are things that make it different.
"Unlike Chick Chain and Pig Squeal, Market Steer will not have an auction at the end of the project," Tigue added. "We want to teach the 4-H members about marketing their cattle as freezer beef direct to consumers and help them find as many marketing opportunities as possible."
Market Steer was launched this past August and will run until the calves are ready to be processed, expected to be between next May and July.
Tigue said, once the students receive their steer, it is their responsibility to care for the animals.
"The students are randomly assigned a steer to keep the project fair. We want the members to have a level start and see who the best cattle producer is," Tigue said. "During the program, each kid cares for the calf: feeding it every day, keeping it watered, watching for health issues, maintaining facilities for the calf and so on."
Students also will have to halterbreak the calves so they can be shown, as well as go through Beef Quality Assurance Training to learn about protecting the quality and safety of the beef they are producing.
Tigue said it is important for the students to understand what these animals are for.
"It is extremely important to make sure these students understand these animals are food animals, not pets," Tigue concluded.
The idea for a program like this has been talked about for several years. After discussion with fellow Extension personnel, the Northwest Alabama 4-H Animal Science Team made the decision to pilot Market Steer this year. There are 15 participants in this pilot program.
McWilliams said the team decided to use existing materials to aid them in the launch of the program.
"Instead of developing our own curriculum, the team decided to use materials and curriculum already available. A ‘Beef Resource Handbook,’ purchased from Ohio State Extension, was provided to each participant," McWilliams explained. "Three mandatory meetings also were held throughout the state before 4-H members could receive their steers."
The team worked with a producer in Tuscaloosa County to secure the steers needed. Since the start of the project, several home visits have been conducted to help with getting the steers halterbroken and also keeping a close watch on any sickness with the steers.
McWilliams said, so far, the program has been going well and several educational lessons have been learned.
"We have had great results with the steers and the members. I am only aware of one steer having sickness and requiring veterinarian attention," McWilliams said. "There have been several unexpected educational opportunities for us to capitalize on with this project, but that is expected with any new program.
"Alabama 4-H agents Leslie Goins and Janet Lovelady have been extremely helpful in launching the Market Steer program. Without their help, piloting this new program would not have been possible."
McWilliams said the hope is that Market Steer will help youth learn about the commercial cattle industry, leadership, financial management, animal husbandry and animal science.
"The market steer project is simply another tool in our arsenal to help mold and make future agricultural leaders in this state and also share the good news of 4-H to our youth," McWilliams added. "No matter the project or competition we provide to youth, our ultimate goal is to share the essential values of 4-H."