In its first year, the Master Cattle Producer
program has attracted a wide spectrum of participants, from the seasoned to the greenhorn.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are Darla Lanie of Erath and her high school son, Foster. They both enrolled in the program, and they enthusiastically recall what they learned.
Darla Lanie admits she was out of her element when she first began working with cattle, and she said Master Cattle helped her fill many gaps in her knowledge of raising Brangus cattle with her husband, sugarcane farmer, Al Lanie.
“I married into this. I didn’t grow up in it. When the boys first started showing animals in 4-H I didn’t touch the cows, I didn’t brush them or anything.”
She said the coursework is applicable for even the most experienced cattle owner.
“Anybody with cattle should go through this program,” she said.
Foster Lanie, a student at Erath High School, shows Brangus cattle. So do his brothers, Colin and Andre. During the school year, they are up at 5 a.m. every day to feed and care for their animals.
Foster is driven to raise quality animals. He tends to his animals the way some youngsters check their favorite TV show.
“He’s always checking on the cows,” Darla Lanie said. “He just loves it.”
Foster has enthusiastically followed the Master Cattle Producer program’s recommendations to maintain computer records to track his cattle’s progress. He has a full slate of Excel spreadsheet records.
“I keep track of all their vaccines I give them, their weights, the dates worming was administered and feed supplements,” Foster said.
He also keeps track of how much is spent on feed, vet bills and other costs related to the cattle.
Foster said he learned a lot about pasture management.
“I’m trying to get these cattle on a rotational grazing system,” he said.
And the session on genetics gave him a few ideas. He figures one bull, Hank, can help produce an even better show animal. “He’ll downsize the frames and he’s real meaty.”
The 11 weekly three-hour classes provide a well-rounded offering useful to anyone who raises cattle. Classes cover pasture management, breeding, reproduction, ani- mal health, animal handling, nutrition, end product and financial management. Jason Rowntree, LSU AgCenter director of the program, admits the program is so comprehensive that he has trouble keeping up with all of it.
“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.”
Lewis Dooley, a retired mechanical engineer from the Church Point area, is a Master Cattle Producer graduate. He has 25 Brahmas but doesn’t expect to make a lot of money from them.
“I just enjoy working with them, studying the genetics and converting grass to meat.”
Dooley is convinced that gentle animals produce tender meat. “What I’m trying to do is breed animals that are gentle and tender,” he said.
He’s certainly achieved the gentleness quality. His 3-year-old bull, Mac, is like a big dog who loves to be petted, and even Dooley’s cows with calves are approachable.
“It’s not worth it if I can’t come out here and scratch ‘em and play with them,” he said. “You’ve got to spend time with them.”
Dooley exports embryos overseas to such countries as Colombia and Brazil. He also sells bulls to be used for commercial cow herds.
Even with his knowledge and experience, Dooley said the Master Cattle Producer program helped him.
“I got a lot of good ideas, especially on foraging,” he said. “You’ve got to have cattle that can make it on grass, so you’ve got to have good grass. That’s one of the reasons I enrolled in the program.”
At the same time, he said, consumers are demanding better quality beef, and the Master Cattle program emphasizes meeting that demand with the Beef Quality Assurance program.
Rowntree said the program stresses that cattle producers should think beyond the sale barn.
“The program is aimed at making cattle producers aware that they are not a cattle producer but a beef producer. Our job does not end when that calf is sold,” Rowntree said.
It’s difficult for cattle producers to know how well the end product is received beyond the point of sale, Rowntree said, so it’s essential that the best practices be used.
Joe Hidalgo of Opelousas has decades of experience in animal husbandry from his career as a veterinary supply salesman and from his years of owning Brangus cattle. Hidalgo, a district vice president for the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association
, said he completed the Master Cattle program to set an example for the rest of the LCA membership.
“This sets Louisiana way ahead of other states,” Hidalgo said. “We’re ahead of the game and we’ve become more knowledgeable. The LCA is very pleased with the Master Cattle program.”
Hidalgo, who has a herd of 40 Brangus cows, said he got more out of the program than just learning new information about the cattle industry.
“I got to meet a lot of good people I didn’t know, and there was a lot of camaraderie,” he said. “I was impressed with the people who attended it. Many of them brought their wives, and they became an integral part of a cattle operation after the program.”
Ronnie Link and his two sons, Dwane and Kyle, attended the Master Cattle Producer program, even though it meant an hour’s drive to Lafayette after working cattle all day on their cattle operation, the Eagle’s Nest ranch in rural Avoyelles Parish.
“It was the most informative training I’ve ever been to,” Ronnie Link said. “They gave out a lot of information that we refer to in our day-to-day operation.”
He moves and herds animals at his ranch the old-fashioned way – on horseback. But unlike the traditional cowboy way, you won’t hear a lot of whooping and hollering, and use cattle prods is kept to a minimum.
“It puts stress on the animals and it stresses me,” said Dwane Link. “I chose this lifestyle for the peace and quiet, and it’s going to stay that way. That’s one of the things they teach in the program, and we’ve been doing it for years.”
Link worked out West on a dude ranch. He looks and acts the part of a cowboy, wearing chaps, well-worn knee-high boots. He said riding horses and raising cattle area natural fit.
“I wouldn’t want to do one without the other,” he said.
Ronnie Link bought the ranch 12 years ago. He’s expanded it to 2,600 acres for 1,200 head of cattle, mostly Brangus.
Kyle Link said the Beef Quality Assurance program and environmental stewardship were the most informative for him.
“I’d have to say the environmental stewardship was the biggest eye opener because I didn’t know all the problems we’re having with runoff and our waterways,” Kyle Link said. “Everybody is going to have to start playing a role to straighten that out.”
Rowntree said 380 people have graduated from the program so far. Demand has been so high that some people have had to put their names on a waiting list.
“The program is pertinent to the needs of the clientele,” he said. “We’re improving the means for them (cattle producers) to sustain their herds in slim years.”
The coursework is presented by the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, said he has received favorable comments on the program.
“This was the most outstanding program I’ve been involved with in terms of adult education,” Dutile said.
Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said the program will enhance the quality of beef produced in Louisiana as well as voluntarily improve environmental quality on ranch operations and adjacent property.
“The success of the Master Cattle Producer program has been phenomenal with high enrollment statewide and excellent participant evaluations,” Coreil said. “There is no doubt that Louisiana is well on its way to leading the nation in producing quality beef for the consumer using production practices that help conserve our natural resources.” Bruce Schultz
(This article was published in the winter 2006 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)