In Nebraska, agriculture is king of industry and youth involvement. Over 90% of the state’s total area is comprised of farms and ranches, holding 23 million acres of native or tamed grasses. Combine this with the presence of multifaceted irrigation strategies and temperate climate conditions, and the ingredients for effective animal and crop agriculture are possible! From this, the state has shown its ability to thrive under these conditions, amassing unparalleled production of various livestock species, red meat production, row crop production, and utility for by-product production via other industries such as ethanol production. Put it this way, the population of live cattle in the state of Nebraska outnumber its human population at 4 to 1 (give or take a few decimal points)! If that doesn’t elicit the significance of agriculture in Nebraska, not much else will.
From this robust industry within the state, we have farmers and ranchers. These hard-working men and women use their resources to excel in their respective facet of the industry, using the tools to impart on their children to excel in their own future. As their children aspire to their own goals in life, they will have been introduced to agriculture from a first-person perspective on the farm and in the classroom, and are encouraged to learn as much about agriculture as they wish to attain. One facet, typically not considered, is the process of animal harvest and utility of its muscle as a nutrient dense source of food….meat! Most likely, these youth will be familiar with different names for meat cuts such as “ribeye, filet, or ground beef”, but understanding how those cuts were properly procured from those animals is likely not in their repertoire….at least not yet.
The Sandhills Cattle Association has placed an emphasis on bridging the gap between livestock production and food science for youth, offering the Steers for Students program across the north-central region of Nebraska. In collaborative efforts with Jim Penny, owner and operator of Husker Meats in Ainsworth, NE, they have created a program designed to educate youth in the region about topics including touring a small local meat locker and learning about animal harvest, humane animal handing, food safety, USDA Quality and Yield grading, carcass fabrication, and fabrication technique. All these topics are designed to generate one lasting thought: cattle from Nebraska generate high-quality product, and using effective processing and food safety measures, we obtain meat cuts that are high in palatability and value from the animal’s we work with every day.
Steers for Students will hold its 2nd annual event this June, and its value as a program has already been seen throughout the state. The collaborative efforts for this program include Husker Meats, the University of Nebraska, and the Nebraska Beef Council, all providing educators in the first installment of the program. In addition, the support of local producers including Walking X Ranch, Blackford Ranch, Atkinson Livestock, and Nielsen Swan Valley Ranch was shown in the first Steers for Student event in 2022, donating cattle for the event, with many to participate again this year!
The outlook of the first year provided insight for students on the nuances of what happens after the cattle are put on the truck destined for the dinner plate. The educators and contributors to this program act as stewards to meat science and livestock production, as their efforts in this program reflect the value of hard working, effective management of animals to generate high dollar, highly valuable product. I encourage everyone to become pro-active in Steers for Students and the Sandhills Cattle Association. There are multiple facets that everyone can learn from this program, and multiple ways to participate. These tools can be a catalyst for youth integration into meat science, and provide insight into an industry they may not have considered as a potential passion for their personal or career path. I can attest its value.
-Nicolas Herrera, PhD Candidate
University of Nebraska-Lincoln