A journey of education, interpersonal skills and cattle
Annabelle Butler, 2018 Agriculture Scholar
Over several weeks in April and May 2019 I completed my BBM Youth Award international experience. During my time in the US, I visited a number of ranches, feed-yards and businesses, as well as completed an internship. I traveled through Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.
I started off in Nebraska…
where I hired a car and travelled to Giltner in South-Eastern Nebraska to the Rhodes’ family farm. The farm consisted mostly of irrigated cornfields where cows were grazed during the winter. The Rhodes’ family couldn’t have welcomed me into their home at a better time, as a snowstorm rolled in. We enjoyed a number of hours chatting about sustainable agriculture and beef production. The more we chatted, the more I learnt, and I started to see that some of my beliefs surrounding sustainable agriculture had been well and truly tried and proven. I was recommended numerous books, TedTalks and events surrounding sustainable agriculture, and I drove away from the farm with a renewed energy for producing beef in an environmentally friendly way.
From Giltner, Nebraska, I travelled to Bruning, Nebraska to meet with Reiss and Heather Bruning of Bruning Farms. I completely surprised myself with my ability to communicate and relate to Reiss and Heather. My interpersonal skills clearly did well, as it didn’t take long before all three of us felt as though we’d known one another for a lifetime. I couldn’t believe that mutual connections had lead me to meet some of the most amazing friends, but also a couple who are extremely talented at beef production and everything that goes with it. The key lesson I got out of this trip was to be yourself no matter what and people will appreciate you for that. I also learnt a lot about low stress stock handling in an intensive cattle feeding situation (over winter), rations, treating sick cattle and operating a family business. Very grateful to have met these people!
I met the renowned Temple Grandin…
The next stop of my journey was a particularly exciting one, where I flew into Denver, Colorado. From the airport I hired a car and drove to Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado State University. This is where I met the renowned Temple Grandin, and was lucky enough to spend the day with her. I was at first intimidated to spend time with her, but as we chatted, I realized that she would always make time for those who are genuine. She taught me that you should never judge a book (person) by its cover and to not waste your time with people who aren’t interested or don’t want to learn. The concepts and ideas we discussed were extremely relevant to current and future animal welfare and livestock handling, and I will carry this with me for a long time. What an amazing opportunity!
Seedstock producer Mushrush Red Angus was my next destination, and was I glad I got to see the ranch! Although this was not the first time that I had experienced the generosity of American people, I was still amazed at how commonplace it was for families to accept you into their homes, feed you great food and treat you like an old friend. Daniel Mushrush showed me around the operation, and as we chatted, I was surprised with how much resilience he had. Not only had the family been told multiple times that Red Angus were subpar to Black Angus and still carried on, they were great at backing themselves in every decision made. This was certainly something I could appreciate. The scale of the breeding operation and business in general, coupled with the quality of the cattle, inspired me to pursue greatness on a large scale in my own livestock business in the future.
The next step was to complete a working week-long internship in Oregon. Vytelle was my first host company, which is a bovine IVF business based in Hermiston, Oregon. Cynthia Wise, one of the resident vets at Vytelle, who was my port-of-call for the week, met me at the beginning of the experience. The dynamic of the Vytelle office was somewhat different to what I had experienced throughout my trip, as although the business was beef related, those involved were more passionate about bovine reproduction. However, it didn’t take long for me to adjust to this scenario and I was soon asking question after question. Although this was not a typical placement I had foreseen myself completing, I am very glad I had the opportunity to experience something different and test my knowledge.
The greatest learning curve…
The greatest learning curve came as I progressed through the internship, and that was that there are so many options available to producers for beef genetic improvement and that they are more accessible than you would think. Also, as Vytelle had clients coming on site for IVF procedures, it offered a great networking opportunity for myself and really got to test my relationship skills. This is how I got to secure the two ranch visits later in the week. The first ranch visit was with Ryan Raymond, at Raymond Ranch, Pilot Rock, Oregon. Ryan and I had a great few hours touring the ranch and I think we were both surprised with how well we got on. So well, that Ryan offered me a job if I ever wanted to come back!
Another thing that surprised me was the scenery at the ranch – it was amazingly rugged, a credit to the ranches who can capitalize in that environment. Making the best out of situations seems to be a somewhat common theme of my trip. The last stop of the Oregon leg was to Thomas Angus Ranch in Baker City, Oregon, where I met Rob Thomas. The team at the Thomas Ranch was clearly busy at the time of my visit, so I was thankful that they made time to take me to lunch and show me around. My interpersonal skills were put to good use again as within half an hour I’d found I got along with one of the team members really well and we discovered we had several things in common. This is honestly the best part about my whole experience – meeting like-minded and relatable people who are genuine and likable.
The East Coast
Roseda Farms in Monkton, Maryland, was my next destination located on the east coast of the US. The principals of Roseda Farms, Dean and Marcia Bryant, picked me up from the airport and were nothing but accommodating for my entire stay. This visit was one where the age gap between myself and the hosts was at its greatest. This posed somewhat of a communication barrier as we slightly struggled to relate to one another. However, after a little time to warm up we began to get along much better. I was lucky that Dean and Marcia’s niece, Cori, was with us most of the time, and we hit it off right away. Through Cori, I could understand the ways of Dean and Marcia, and in the end I had a great few days with the family. They ensured I was fully immersed in the east coast sights, people and beef industry and I am grateful for that.
Following my stint in Maryland, I was off to Texas for the final placement of my BBM experience. Upon arrival in Fort Worth, I had the first day of my entire BBM experience where I was operating entirely on my own time. It was an interesting time management exercise which I somewhat struggled with due to where I’d booked my accommodation and how I travelled there. However, I really enjoyed the day and got to tick off some of the highly recommended tourist activities. From Fort Worth, I made my way to Aledo, where I met with Dawn Hnatow of Cattle Up Stockmanship. Dawn and I started off with dinner, and found we had much of the same opinions and therefore got along really well. Of course, we mostly discussed low stress stockmanship, and I really enjoyed learning from Dawn. She had a great combination approach of video, drawing, notes and actually putting it all into practice. Some of the concepts were a little out of the ordinary and nothing I would have thought could have worked, but it’s definitely something I’ll be putting into practice at home. What a great way to end the trip and it was something good to put at the front of my mind for the 24+ hours of travelling I had ahead of me to get home.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone in the agricultural industry and would also recommend the US as a top destination to not only learn, but also make lifelong friends.