Ainsworth, NE – You may have heard or seen the Sandhills Cattle Association talk about and advertise our newest program, 'Steers for Students.' I am pleased to announce that we pulled it off! On June 29, we held our very first Steers for Students Program at Husker Meats, LLC., in Ainsworth, Nebraska. With lots of help from Jim Pinney, owner of Husker Meats LLC, Nicolas Herrera Ph.D. Student at UNL, Adam Wegner with the Nebraska Beef Council, and of course our calf donors, Craig & Katie O'Kief – Walking X Ranch of Woodlake, NE, Matt & Kristina Blackford – Blackford Ranch of Thedford, NE, Atkinson Livestock – Wes Kilmurry of Atkinson, NE, and Greg & Jolee Nielsen – Nielsen Swan Valley Ranch of Gordon, NE, we had a successful first year of our program! Which means everyone gets beef!
Here is a quick background of what our new program entails. 'Steers for Students' program is our unique educational program geared toward the youth of the Sandhills. This program was developed by Elysabeth Kierl, former SCA Executive Director, and myself, Maddie Lamb, SCA Outreach Coordinator. Elysabeth felt a need to help educate the youth of the Sandhills about beef production and provide them with more sustainable food for their lunches, so we figured out a way to do that. Elysabeth dedicated a lot of time to this program, working out the logistics of everything, and without Jim Pinney's help and cooperation, this wouldn't have been possible! The calves donated to the program were penned with the other calves during the 2022 Educational, Performance, and Carcass Contest at Cottonwood Feeders in Stuart, NE. Their donors received all the calf's data during the contest. After the contest, the 'Steers for Students' calves were then taken to Husker Meats LLC on June 27. We invited the producers of the calves and students and teachers from Gordon, Valentine, Atkinson, and Thedford to learn about the final stages in beef production, from the feedlot to their plate. The public schools that the donors chose, Thedford, Atkinson, Valentine, and Gordon, will receive the donated beef for their school lunch programs at no cost! And to make this program even better, the ranchers that donated calves received half of the primal cuts, and the Sandhills Cattle Association received the other half for future events that will be held. We think this program is a win-win situation for everyone, and we hope to continue improving it and growing it in the future!
Our first 'Steers for Students' program officially started at about 8:30 am on June 29 at Husker Meats LLC. While getting ready for the students to arrive. Nicolas Herrera, Jim Pinney, and I were all on Twister Radio that morning and gave a quick talk about the program, and what we would learn that day—shortly after that, our first group of students and producers arrived! We started by getting our protective gear, including hair nets, beard nets, and jackets. Once the group was ready, we headed over to the harvest floor portion of the building. Jim Pinney walked us through the process of harvesting animals and how cautious and humane they are to the animals that come in. Jim prides his plant on its humane animal handling, clean environment, and the fact that they are also Federally Inspected.
After Jim was done with his presentation, we then went over to the trimming and packing floor. We went over how & why the product is packaged and labeled in specific ways, why inspection is so valuable, the equipment used, and the proper storage and ventilation of carcasses and packaged meats. Then Jim's employees brought out Wes Kilmurry's steer carcass to demonstrate how they break down a carcass. Nicolas Herrera went through each part of the animal, explained what muscles they were and how they work, and gave us many scientific explanations and things to think about. Jim broke down the beef primal cuts for us, such as Chuck, Loin, Full Ribs, Short Ribs, Round, Plate, Flank, Shanks, and so much more. The students got to see the difference between a tenderloin steak and a flank steak and how the muscle fibers themselves are entirely different! Jim identified all of the cuts you would see in the grocery store, then showed us a Denver steak, a Del Monaco steak, a chuck steak, and more cuts that aren't usually well known. His knowledge of meat processing is extensive, and everyone learned a lot! Adam Wegner with the Nebraska Beef Council had an excellent diagram that showed steaks and cuts of meats from which part of the animal, how to cook them properly, and other information about consumer trends with beef and retail facts. After the animal was finished being processed, we went into the cooler to learn about carcass evaluation.
On June 28th, Nicolas Herrera with UNL graded all of the 'Steers for Students' carcasses on Yield Grade, Quality Grade, Marbling Score, Ribeye Area, and more. After evaluating, he wrote up a chart on the animals to show the students why each carcass received the rating Prime, Choice, Select, or Standard. Nicolas went step by step through Quality & Yield Grades, the parameters for them, why they are essential, and what value they bring to the animal. Nicolas also went through Fat Thickness, % Kidney, Pelvic, & Heart Fat, and why these parameters are also important in evaluating. The group was great and asked many questions, which Nicolas gladly answered and elaborated on!
Once Nicolas was done with his portion of the program, everyone went outside to enjoy lunch consisting of delicious BBQ ribs and a sack lunch. We held another group in the afternoon, and then just like that, the Sandhills Cattle Association's 'Steers for Students' program was over after months of planning! Everyone was sent home with some educational materials to take home, thanks to UNL and the Nebraska Beef Council. The schools will pick up their ground beef and hamburger patties before school starts this fall, and the producers will receive their primal cuts right away. Everyone learned a lot of new information at our first program, students, and producers alike!
We are beyond thankful for our support for this program, including the ranchers that donated calves and the people who gave monetary donations. This program would not have been possible without our new supportive members, Jason & Katie Jagels. Jason & Katie just relocated to Brewster, NE, and heard about our new program and decided they wanted to support it. At their Cattlemen's Cut Bull Sale in February, they auctioned off a Henry Goldenboy rifle and donated the proceeds to our Association. Not only did they donate the profits, but they also matched the winning bid on the gun and contributed to the program right out of their own pockets. They helped us jumpstart this new program and gave us publicity and enough donors that the schools that receive beef from this program won't have to pay a single dime! Our generous donors to this program include The Cattlemen's Cut, Jason & Katie Jagels - Mark & Suzanne Jagels - Bestol & Masek Ranch, Dave & Brenda Masek - Nutrien Ag Solutions, Doug & Katherine Holtzen – Zoetis - The Home Agency of Elwood - Summit Ag Inc, John Southwick - Broken Bow Animal Hospital - HMR Consulting of Bruning - Jeff & Peg Fruedenberg.
We hope to grow this program for years to come. If you have questions about this program or want to enter your calf next year, please contact the Sandhills Cattle Association office or visit our website! If you wish to donate to the 'Steers for Students' program but don't have a calf, the Association accepts cash donations to cover feed and processing to ensure the beef will be free to the participating schools. You can even choose which school you'd like to 'sponsor' in this program! Please don't hesitate to get in touch with the SCA Office at 402-376-2310 or email email@example.com.
Maddie Lamb - Sandhills Cattle Association Outreach Coordinator