Nebraska ag college gives graduates a head start on beef production
July 25, 2015
Nick Kunz hasn't graduated from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis, Nebraska, yet. But he already has one of his graduation gifts: a bred heifer.
Kunz is one of six students currently enrolled in NCTA's Heifer Link program who will own their first beef animal when they complete their NCTA degree. Kunz, who grew up at Stuart, expects to finish a double major, one in livestock production and a second in business.
"I started helping neighbors with branding calves and moving cattle while I was still in high school," Kunz says. "I helped my dad with the few cows we had, too. What started out as something I enjoyed is now becoming my full time job."
Over the last eight years, Kunz has learned a lot about livestock through both his work and academic experience. One of the greatest values he sees in his NCTA experience is the understanding of the business side of beef production. It was an aspect of the industry that he didn't have access to any other way.
“Over the past five years, the state of Nebraska and donors have dedicated about $15 million to build up our facilities.”
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"When it came to inventory, taxes, income and expense balance sheets, I didn't have a clue," Kunz says. "I wasn't even sure what kind of records I needed to keep."
NCTA's 100 Beef Cow Ownership Advantage and Heifer Link programs are unique to the college. The 100 Beef Cow Ownership program provides each student enrolled in the capstone course with their own small herd to work with in developing business planning and management skills related to beef production. The program is a partnership between NCTA, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) and other farm and ranch organizations. The experience includes development of a business plan for loan consideration, which students present to FSA just prior to graduation.
In Heifer Link, students take ownership of a donated heifer during their NCTA academic career, taking the bred heifer with them when they graduate.
"It's a great way to give our next generation of ranchers a head start on building their own herd," Dr. Douglas Smith, chairman of the Agricultural Education and Animal Science Division, says. "To my knowledge, the only other livestock education program slightly similar to ours is in Ohio. This is a very unique opportunity for students who want to own a ranch or work in a ranch setting."
NCTA's livestock program gives students the opportunity to develop knowledge of beef production basics through animal sciences courses, rations and feedlot management as well as cow/calf management. Some information also applies to other livestock species such as sheep, hogs and dairy cows.
"In addition to the husbandry side of livestock production, students study what it takes to manage the business side of livestock operations," Smith says. "Accounting, marketing and planning are all discussed in the program courses."
NCTA Dean, Dr. Ron Rosati, says the significant assets required to establish a beef operation today makes the school's programs and opportunities a valuable resource for both students and the beef industry.
"Students in our livestock program learn artificial insemination and how to use sexed semen to breed yearling heifers," Rosati says. "We expect that 80 percent of students who qualify for the Heifer Link program will have two heifers within a year after graduation. Compounding that number each year can eventually lead to a significant sized herd."
NCTA recently expanded the land area available to maintain its beef animals and horses. In conjunction with Nebraska's Nature Conservancy, NCTA signed an 800-acre lease agreement that will allow them to grow their own cattle herd, adding additional depth to their livestock program.
"Graves Ranch is the new acreage the college now has for grazing," Rosati says. "The pasture is adjacent to Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."
In addition to allowing NCTA to enlarge their 110 Cow Beef Program, Graves Ranch also gives students and staff an opportunity to organize and participate in a cattle drive each spring and fall. Cattle will be pastured at Graves Ranch each summer and return to campus facilities over winter.
"The cattle drive adds one more exciting component to our livestock program. The hands-on management experience students experience here is one of the unique aspects of NCTA's program," Rosati says. "The beef industry has really supported us, providing donated cattle or cash used to purchase heifers. We've selected the best possible genetics so students in the Heifer Link program have high quality seedstock to work with."
NCTA's roots go back to 1913, when the institution was established as a high school. In 1965, NCTA became a college and was integrated into the University of Nebraska/Lincoln. In the 1980s, tough economic times threatened NCTA's existence. However, strong support coming from across Nebraska helped reorganize the college's financial foundation and led to significant progress as the University's sole two-year technical agricultural school.
"We're 100 percent ag here," Rosati says. "Over the past five years, the State of Nebraska and donors have dedicated about $15 million to build up our facilities. We have a tremendous new state of the art livestock teaching center and indoor arena. In our vet tech center, students work in a setting similar to a private sector veterinarian clinic. The program includes large animals like cattle and horses as well as cats, dogs and a colony of exotics such as tortoises, snakes and birds. NCTA students also have access to real-time broadcasts of presenters featured at UNL."
Kunz believes his experience at NCTA is giving him a significant advantage as he pursues his beef production goals.
"The Heifer Link program is like having someone walk up to you and hand you several thousand dollars," Kunz says. "I can't even explain how it feels to have someone present that kind of gift to you. I've found the cattle we work with on campus to be remarkably easy to handle and the genetic base is above average. With the heifer, that's one less future cost I have to worry about."
Kunz works at a ranch near the college and is also involved with the Curtis community has added depth to his academic experience and increased his chances for succeeding in the beef industry.
"In addition to the groups I'm involved with on campus, I've connected with several community advisors and found opportunities to experience a lot of different things," Kunz says. "It's like anything. You can make it what you want. This is a small college and small town but there are some great opportunities here. For farm and ranch kids like me, it's a perfect match."
Learn more about NCTA's 100 Beef Cow Program at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/ncta_brochure.pdf.
Additional details about NCTA programs and admission requirements are found at http://www.ncta.unl.edu