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Research Partner of the Year - 2005

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s work with UW creates better product

by Steven L. Miller,
Senior Editor
Office of Communications and Technology

Doug Hixon

Doug Hixon

Steve Paisley

Steve Paisley

This year’s Outstanding Research/Outreach Partner can trace its beginnings to 1984 when University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service personnel and a group of Wyoming beef producers formed the Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

The association’s aim is to better position itself in the marketplace by producing beef that consumers want and are willing to buy. The end result is a win-win for everyone – better quality beef that consumers want to buy which increases demand and enhances profitability.

Larry Morrison of Lingle is association president. “Everybody I’ve talked to is thrilled about our selection,” he says. “There are so many times we feel we are working undercover. It’s hard for us to get our programs out so people know about them. We have to educate the commercial cattle producer as to what we are trying to do.”

Doug Hixon, department head and professor in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Science, organized the first meeting of the WBCIA in January 1984.

He was a beef cattle extension specialist at the time. “There was no beef cattle genetic improvement organization at that time,” says Hixon. An earlier beef performance association was no longer functional.

“I knew that many of the economically important traits involved in beef production systems were from 30-percent to 50-percent heritable,” Hixon says. He spent two years assessing the needs of the Wyoming beef industry and visiting with extension educators and producers. They concluded that organized attention should be given to the genetic components of beef cattle production.

“We wanted to draw attention to the importance of the genetic contributions to beef cattle production systems and their economic importance,” says Hixon. A feedlot test and carcass evaluation program were established the first year to attract the interest of the commercial beef industry. A bull test and sale were established the following year. Since its inception, the WBCIA has also added an annual educational symposium as well as a live beef evaluation associated with the Wyoming State Fair Fed Beef Contest. Ultrasound technology has also been incorporated to provide noninvasive estimates
of marbling and rib-eye size in bulls and as a tool for predicting optimum finished endpoint in the feedlot test cattle.

The Pingetzer Bull and Heifer Development Center in Shoshoni administers the bull and heifer tests for the WBCIA. The WBCIA feedlot test and carcass evaluation program is administered by Klein Farms at Wheatland. All programs are open to anyone who wants to find how their animals stack up against others. Producers are asked to consign a minimum of five animals in the feedlot test. Owners are identified by a coded number to assure that this program remains a test and not a contest. It is then the decision of the owner as to how that information is best used.

The Cooperative Extension Service has helped administer some of the testing programs and assisted producers in giving leadership to some of the educational programs, says Hixon. Extension educators Jim Gill in Big Horn, Hot Springs, Park, and Washakie counties, and Ron Cunningham in Fremont County and the Wind River Indian Reservation, have been involved with the bull test from the beginning. Extension educators Wayne Tatman and Phil Rosenlund of Goshen, Laramie, and Platte counties, and Frank Henderson of Converse County have been involved in the heifer development program and feedlot test and carcass evaluation program.

In more recent years, extension educators Alex Malcolm (Fremont County) and Dallas Mount (Platte County) have also been involved with these programs. Steve Paisley, animal science assistant professor, was hired as the beef cattle extension specialist at UW in October, 2001, and he assumed the role of WBCIA executive secretary shortly thereafter.

Better genetics can have a positive effect on a producer’s bottom line. The WBCIA Bull Test’s purpose is to evaluate performance differences among animals that are managed in a common environment. “And 35 percent to 45 percent of those differences are due to genetics,” says Morrison. The performance information goes back to seedstock producers to aid selection decisions in their own herd as well as in those of their customers, helping to genetically match cattle to their environmental resources.

Research has also shown there are genes that can determine the marbling, the rib-eye size, and tenderness, says Brad James of the association.

The WBCIA is producer- driven with a goal to provide a higher quality product for the consumer.

“It was aimed at the producers and their ability to provide beef more efficiently,” says James. “We try to identify the genetics to do that. It’s the best way to take care of the consumer. It’s the lady in the grocery store who pays our bill, and I think at times there has been a disconnect between producers and the consumers. We need to address it.”

Hixon says the landgrant university system is a good source of research-based information. “CES is an unbiased entity when it comes to collecting data and packaging that data in a form that can be appropriately marketed and utilized,” he says.

The relationship works both ways. “The association has added credibility to educational programs and generated funding through the development of the Beef Symposium Committee that has worked in association with the WBCIA Bull Test to generate financing that has gone to support scholarships and internships for students who are interested in being involved in the beef industry in Wyoming,” notes Hixon.

The WBCIA has a specific goal to develop those youths who seek careers in some aspect of agriculture. The Beef Symposium Committee coordinates an art auction that provides seed money for $1,000 scholarships and $1,500 internships. The group has awarded more than 25 since the scholarship program started in 1999.

Scholarships and internships are available to students who have completed at least one year of post-high school education in any Wyoming college or university, says Mary Ann Booth of the association. Students attending professional schools such as veterinary or medical school out-of-state but who meet the other requirements can also apply. Winners are selected by a committee which evaluates applications and interviews finalists.

Students interested in applying should contact Paisley at (307) 766-5541 for additional information.

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