Bruce Schultz, Rowntree, Jason E. | 4/19/2005 10:29:25 PM
LAFAYETTE – Cattle farmers are going back to school to learn how to improve their herds and possibly their income – with help from the LSU AgCenter and other groups.
The Louisiana Master Cattle Producer program began in July with 75 students in the first class in Lafayette Parish. Now, programs in Shreveport, Thibodaux, Hammond, Natchitoches and Port Allen will start this fall, according to the program’s administrator Dr. Jason Rowntree of the LSU AgCenter.
"By next spring, we’ll have our program across the state," he said, explaining even more classes – in places like Winnfield – are slated to begin around the first of the year.
Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association President Charles Litteral said that group started working on the movement two years ago as a way to keep producers educated on the best methods. In turn, it sought the help of the LSU AgCenter and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop the program, which officially kicked off this year at the association’s convention.
"Things are changing so fast in the livestock industry," he said. "We want to teach the most practical and safest methods. It’s our charge and responsibility to keep our cattle producers informed."
Consumers also will benefit from the program, he said.
"We just want a consistent product and a safer product," Litteral said.
The coursework is presented by the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. And Rowntree said the 10 weekly three-hour classes provide a wide range of topics useful to anyone who raises cattle.
"I have a Ph.D., and I still pick up new material," Rowntree said. "No matter if you’re a seasoned cattle producer or somebody with a few cattle on the side, there’s information to help anyone."
Janice Prejean of Lafayette has been in the cattle business for just two months – after her father’s death – and she says the program is providing her a crash course in managing the herd.
"Our goal is to develop a plan for the next decade," she said.
Veteran cattle producer Ronnie Link of Evergreen has 925 cows on 2,500 acres, and he said the program still covered areas that taught him new material.
"There’s been a lot of good information covered in great details," Link said.
Classes cover a wide range of topics, including pasture management, breeding, reproduction, animal health, animal handling, nutrition, end products and financial management.
"Cattle production has become more complicated in the past few years because it is driven more by consumers who demand better quality," Rowntree said. Standards for beef also have been raised by quality audits, he said, explaining that requires producers to raise their standards as well.
An important requirement for Master Cattle Producer certification is that producers are certified through the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association’s Beef Quality Assurance program, which educates producers on proper vaccination administration and other issues that influence what the beef consumers buy at the grocery store.
Although good cattle prices may be drawing new producers to the field right now, the LSU AgCenter’s Rowntree says what participants learn in the program also should help in lean times, as well.
"Hopefully this program will provide enough good information so that when times are tough, producers can still control their bottom line," he said.
The educational program offered in each area is tailored to fit the diversity of the Louisiana production environment, Rowntree said, explaining, for example, that the Brahman influence of South Louisiana isn’t as strong in the herds of North Louisiana.
Charles Roche of Scott said the coursework has been particularly helpful for raising his herd of Black Angus.
"It’s great. They’ve broken it up into good sections, and it’s pretty intense," Roche said, adding that he’s raised cattle through the years, but he’s learned a considerable amount of new things in the program.
Educating farmers improves the industry overall, according to Roche, who said it’s possible that cattle raised by students of the Master Cattle Producer program may one day yield even more money.
"I like cattle, but I’ve still got to make it pay for itself," Roche said.
Rowntree said individuals who want to enroll in the program should contact an LSU AgCenter county agent in their parish to determine when and where courses are being offered in their area. The total cost for participating in the 10-week course is $100, and a meal is included at each session.