Benefits of Beef: The Youth Perspective

image_galleryColleagues and I recently hosted the 11th annual Nebraska Youth Beef Leadership Symposium (NYBLS), where the freshman/sophomore students were tasked with making a short “benefits of beef” iMovie video. They nailed it! I wanted to share a proud educator moment with you!

There are a total of five videos, but I am just sharing two here. If you are interested in viewing the others, you can find them here.


* Note: Youth from all over the country are welcome to attend, if you have a high school student who would enjoy this, please let me know!


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10 Life Tips from Future Ag Leaders

I spent three days this week with at the AgriFutures Conference, held in Kearney, Nebraska. Myself, along with persons from the Wyoming Department of Ag and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) had been planning this event for several months. In attendance were college students, producers, and industry representatives from Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, and Canada! We had some great speakers and networking opportunities.

Before we adjourned on the last day we went around the room and shared “take away messages” from our time together. I think that many of the take away messages from the conference apply not only to agriculture, but to life in general.

The list I am sharing with you today is one generated by these agriculture enthusiasts and leaders – the people who grow and raise the food we all eat. And boy let me tell you, they are excited about the future of agriculture (hence AgriFuture)!

10 Life Tips

I know there are a few things on this list I could be better at, and I will continue to work on those things. Are there things on the list you are working on? What is missing from the list?


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Show Ring Days…Throwback Thursday

I was a 10 year 4-H member as a kid. If you are not familiar with 4-H I encourage you to check it out – it is a program for youth (ages vary across the country from 8-18 or 9-19). While there are livestock projects, there is also robotics, rocketry, sewing and fashion review, interior designs, fisheries and wildlife, and so much more!

Today my throwback Thursday are a couple shots in the show ring my last year in 4-H (1997). My sister and I worked hard with our homegrown animals and as a result we often did well.

This show was in Bishop, California and we had to wear the official 4-H uniform: dark jeans and boots, long sleeve white shirt, green tie, and a 4-H hat.

My steer “Lu” short for Lucifer (yes, he was quite the handful) was a class winner. My sister and her steer were right behind us in the second place spot.
In another class, my sister was the class winner with her steer, and I was in the second spot with “Sisco”, who went on to become the Nevada State Fair Champion later that summer!

What are your favorite 4-H memories? If you don’t yet have any, it is never to late to get involved – as a kid or adult!


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Youth Agriculture Adventures

I work at one of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Research, Extension, and Education Centers located in Mead, Nebraska. One of the services we provide in the spring and summer months is tours for various groups. The groups range from youth interested in livestock, to medical students, doctors, and international visitors. Today we hosted a group of youth who are interested in animal and veterinary science for the day and had a great time with them.

I have the reputation for being the “gross” presenter! If it smells, is dirty, or disgusts people then I am the one that will usually teach it – and of course it has to be hands on! 🙂 So let me introduce you to some of what we did today.

** Warning, if you are squeamish, you may not enjoy this post!


Anatomy and Physiology-pig
Youth learning about organs, glands, valves and more in the anatomy and physiology session! The smell didn’t get too bad until they wanted me to open the stomach…
Youth reaching into the fistulated (hole into rumen) steer with Racheal. Bob helping the youth find the microorganisms from the rumen (largest stomach compartment) under the microscope.
Karl visiting with the youth about the cow herd. With a little feed incentive, the kids almost had the cows eating from their hands!
Feedlot and Feedstuffs Tour! Bob explaining group cattle feeding versus individual cattle feeding. Youth were able to see many different types of feedstuffs and how a ration is mixed. A demonstration of a hydraulic cattle processing chute and pens were a big hit too!


A great time was had by all! The youth left with manure on their shoes, dust on their skin, and a better understanding of the beef and agricultural industries in Nebraska.

Many thanks to Deloris Pittman and Racheal Slattery for photo contributions.

Why is there a hole in that steer? … Fistulated Fun Fact Friday

At UNL we have several fistulated steers which are used for research and education. Traditionally, these fistulas (also called a cannula) were inserted for research purposes. The fistula can either be on their neck (esophageal fistula) to monitor what they eat, especially when grazing to determine grazing and forage preferences OR it can be on their left side, which goes into the rumen, the largest compartment of their stomach to monitor feed and diets, ultimately making livestock rations more efficient. I talk more about ruminants (livestock with one stomach which has four compartments) here.

But today I want to introduce you to the UNL Mobile Beef Lab!

The Mobile Beef Lab, if you see us on the road be sure and wave – we are a friendly bunch!

There are actually two of these labs in Nebraska, with the intent to educate! Each lab has one steer and a team of Educators. The Educators all have livestock backgrounds, so they know their way around an animal and a trailer. Additionally, everyone on the teaching team has been IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) certified. Every University that does research or education with animals will have an IACUC Office and people who regulate all use of these animals. The primary purpose is to ensure that the animals are well cared for; are not in pain or danger; and are being provided the best possible care at all times. To learn more about IACUC at UNL check out this page.

These labs go to schools, fairs, festivals, and other community events. When we take the lab out we talk about microbiology, ruminant nutrition, food production, forage resource management, anatomy and physiology, animal care, and more! And the best part…you can put your arm through the hole to reinforce what you learned!

Heather helping a student understand what he is feeling inside the rumen.

At schools we can set up microscopes. Students have a chance to remove a small portion of the rumen fluid and look at it under a microscope to see all of the microorganisms and their activity!

The microscope can be set up in the trailer for close convenience…
…or it can be set up in a classroom as Steve is assisting with here.

The Mobile Beef Lab is an excellent way to start conversations. We have been to some great places with it, such as –

Husker Harvest Days near Grand Island, Nebraska.
The Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, NE.
And Werner Park for a baseball game near Omaha, NE.

So now you probably have some questions, we get asked several of the same ones repeatedly, so I will do my best to answer what you may be thinking…

Does it hurt? No, once healed it is like having an earring or a gauge in your ear. The steer doesn’t know it is there and he lives a completely normal life. He sleeps, runs, and eats just any other beef animal would. Fun fact: there are no nerve endings in their stomach, so they can’t feel our arms and hands in their rumen!

The steer eating from the bunk and hanging out with the State Fair Breeding Pavilion Heifers. He is very happy and healthy as you can see!

How was that (aka the fistula) put in? When the steer was about 500 pounds he underwent a procedure at UNL with veterinarians and veterinary students. Our teaching team was present and viewed the procedure (I didn’t think to get pictures when it happened a couple of years ago). They numbed the entire area with a local anesthetic (similar to what they would do to you at the dentist for a procedure) so he couldn’t feel anything. A small circle of the hide was removed, the muscle tissue was teased apart to get to the lining of the stomach. A small slit was cut in the lining of the stomach, and then the hide and stomach lining were stitched together. The fistula was inserted, and is a soft, pliable plastic devise that most similarly resembles a spool that thread comes on. It is larger on the inside of the stomach and the outside of the body to hold it in place. Then a plug is inserted into the middle, which comes out and goes in (it very rarely ever falls out on its own, we have to always manually removed it and put it back in) to seal up the fistula when the steer is not being used. The steer’s pain was monitored until it was completely healed.

An example of what the fistula looks like.

But I am scared to put my arm in there… There is nothing to be scared of. Our teaching team is by your side the entire time, our steer is very mellow and does this a lot. Additionally, there is nothing in there that can hurt you. It is like putting your hand into a warm bowl of soup, that is churning 🙂

How long will you keep the steer? We will keep him for years if we can. By having this procedure done the steer has become more valuable. He is also very tame, and he gets to meet lots of new people every year. As long as he stays healthy and maintains a good temperament we will keep him. We never want to put him or anyone who meets him in danger or harm.

What happens when he is harvested? When he is harvested (slaughtered) for meat, it will be like any other beef animal. The fistula will be removed and the persons who harvest him will have to be very careful that none of the rumen content gets on the carcass, so as to maintain a safe food source. He will be harvested and processed just like any other meat production animal.

What other questions do you have?


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Stepping on the scale and ear piercing time!

In Nebraska it is the time of year when 4-H and FFA market beef animals are officially weighed and tagged.

In case you need a refresher, 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development and empowerment organization that reaches more than 7 million youth. In Nebraska, youth need to be 8 to 18 years of age to be in 4-H, and one in every three age eligible youth are members of 4-H! The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is also a youth organization, but for high school youth only. This organization helps in the development of leadership, personal growth, and career success. Both are excellent youth development organizations you should check out if you are not yet familiar with them.

As I was saying, market beef (market beef can be steers (males) and/or heifers (females)) weigh-in and tagging days are occurring across the state. It is important to have an “official” record of all animals (and all projects for that matter) that these youth want to exhibit at a fair or other exhibition. Since beef are the largest animal and will need the most time to grow, they are weighed and tagged earlier than the other animals youth can take (i.e. pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, poultry).

Each beef animal receives an official ear tag. An ear tag is a flexible piece of plastic that is put in the ear as a means to identify the animal, very similar to an earring for a person. This ear tag cannot be removed (unless cut) and it is unique to the animal, meaning no other animal will have the same number. The animal will keep this tag until it is harvested for meat, or returned to a breeding herd (applies to females, aka heifers, only). Sometimes a tag can fall out or get ripped out of the ear, but for the most part the animal never looses it. (Disclaimer: I am not promoting a brand, I just wanted to show you how a beef animal is tagged.)

Other means of identification are a nose print, yes you read that right, a nose print. Just like no two people will have the same fingerprints, no no two cattle will have the same nose print. Since a nose print never changes this can be a great way to ensure the same animal that was weighed and tagged in January is being shown in July or September.

We can also pull a few hairs and follicles from the tail switch to get DNA on an animal. Like the nose print, the DNA will never change and it is a great way to also ensure that the same animal entered is the same one shown many months later. Additionally, many of the larger livestock shows require that a hair sample has been pulled on all animals entered.

Once the animal has been tagged, or identified, it is weighed. This will be the beginning weight. Today I was the official “scale master” and weighed all of the animals; the majority weighed between 500 and 800 pounds. It is important for youth to know how much their animal weighs now so they can determine how much they want their animal to weigh at fair. For example, if a steer weighed 600 pounds today (January 4) and the youth wants it to weigh 1250 on July 28; that is 205 days, and it needs to gain 650 pounds. So the youth will need to set a goal for it to gain at least 3.2 pounds a day. That goal is very obtainable. It also teaches youth management of their animal and the animal’s diet, record keeping, and goal setting.

So despite the cold temperatures, Extension folks across Nebraska and many other states are weighing and tagging beef animals in preparation for livestock shows that won’t happen for many months to come. It is all in a day’s work!

Market beef animals waiting for their turn – many thanks to all of the volunteers and parents that helped today!

This steer is sporting an official ear tag and is getting an official weight!

What did you do today?