April 4, 2013
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It's no Cancún, but Ag students network
during spring break farm tours

Amanda Gee on Spring Tour
Purdue students (left to right) Kelsey Sajdera, Rebekah Pierce, Megan Cramer and Amanda Gee pose for a picture during a stop on their tour of the Midwest. They also traveled together to England, Ireland and Wales in 2012, touring several horse industry venues. (Photos provided)

By Amanda Gee

Spring break means sun and beaches for many college students. But for me, it meant the opportunity to learn more about animal sciences in another part of the United States. 

I enrolled in ANSC393, Animal Industry Travel Course, to see agriculture from a different view, such as from feedlots and larger ranches. But like many of my peers, I also took the class for its networking opportunities. We had an itinerary full of agricultural connections, and most of us in the class are upperclassmen who will be looking for a job in the near future. 

Most students on the trip are majoring in animal sciences or preveterinary studies, with a few exceptions, including me. I’m majoring in agricultural communication with a minor in animal sciences. 

This much we can say: Purdue University has announced the winners of the G.A. Ross and Flora Roberts Awards, honoring the top male and female seniors on campus. But to find out their identities, you'll have to read ConnectionsNow! on Wednesday, April 10.

The students met once a week before spring break to research the states and species trends in the region. While learning about agriculture in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, we also started getting to know our peers and the faculty. 

Then March 9 arrived, and we climbed aboard our Purdue tour bus and headed west. 

Day One: Our first stop was at Funk Farms Trust in Shirley, Ill., where hybrid seed corn was first developed. We toured their monoslope cattle barn, a naturally ventilated design with only one slope to the roof. This design is becoming more popular in the beef industry. 

Then we were rolling down the road again, nodding off against the bus windows and seatmates. We checked out another larger monoslope barn at Black Gold Ranch and Feedlot in Astoria, Ill., and met Steve Foglesong, past president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. After hearing his thoughts on the industry, we visited a Belgian horse breeding farm in Joy, Ill., before dragging our tired bodies into an Iowa hotel after 11 p.m. 

Jamison Ranch 2, Nebraska
 An early spring snowstorm slowed – but did not stop – the Purdue group’s six-state tour of Midwest agricultural facilities.

Day Two: It was snowing as we headed out to the Milk Unlimited Dairy Farm in Atlantic, Iowa, but it was worth the trip, because we were served chocolate milk along with information about the dairy. Snow continued in the afternoon, making roads slick and forcing the bus driver to find alternate routes. Interstate 80 later closed because of traffic accidents, but we got on it just in time. 

We started rethinking this “spring” break as we moved slowly along the interstate. It became a game to count the number of vehicles that had slid off the road. About five hours later, we made it safely to Lincoln, Neb., took a short tour of the animal science facilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and then headed to our next hotel. 

Day Three: As we drove west across Nebraska toward the day’s stops, the snow started to disappear. At one stop, Dennis Stucky, manager of North Platte Livestock Feeders in Wellfleet, Neb., hopped on our bus to give us a tour of the 72,000-head operation. Everyone whipped out their cameras to take in the sea of cattle that was before us on dry, dusty land as Stucky talked about his personal history and that of the company. 

The history theme continued in the afternoon when the owners of Maddux Cattle Co., a smaller cow-calf operation in Wauneta, Neb., invited us into their home. They told us about their smaller cattle operation and called themselves grass farmers, not cattle farmers. 

Jamison Ranch, Nebraska
The best way to tour the sprawling Jamison Ranch was from the back of a pickup truck.

Day Four: We stopped by Heartland Cattle Co. in McCook, Neb., to talk to two Purdue alumnae running a feedlot that focuses only on heifer development. It was interesting to compare this operation with other feedlots that we had seen in previous days and hear about the industry from two women  Patsy Houghton, PhD ’86, and Janet Lynch-Rippe, BS ’93 -- who had been in our shoes not so long ago. 

But the highlight of the day came later, when our group loaded onto two flatbed trucks lined with hay bales and rode on the rangeland at Jamison Ranch  in Quinter, Kan., to look, at a herd of Hereford cattle. 

Jamison Ranch 2, Nebraska
Gee, of North Vernon, Ind., was amazed by the size of the Jamison Ranch in Quinter, Kan.

Day Five: The trip wasn’t all farms and feedlots. We ventured into the pharmaceutical side of agriculture with a visit to Bayer Animal Health’s U.S. headquarters in Shawnee Mission, Kan., where we heard about personal career journeys of various staff members. The career theme continued during lunch when the Agriculture Future of America organization treated us to pork BBQ at the American Royal Association complex in Kansas City, Mo. 

We met with business leaders and then spent the evening with agricultural student leaders at the University of Missouri

Day Six: Most of us wanted to forgo our afternoon stop at an egg farm because not many of us have a career interest in the poultry industry. But Mark Russell, animal sciences professor and trip coordinator, reminded us that we were supposed to experience many different parts of agriculture on the trip. 

We watched eggs wind their way around a large room on a conveyer belt before being gently deposited into egg cartons. When we got back on the bus, everyone was saying things like, “Hey, I actually liked that stop” and “I guess those professors really do know what they’re talking about.” 

Day Seven: We were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the St. Louis Zoo’s kitchen – a.k.a. the nutrition center – and veterinary center, and learned about internships and jobs. 

lamb at Rocky Ford Ranch near Trenton, IL
This lamb at the Rocky Ford Ranch near Trenton, Ill., observed the observers. 

On down the road near Trenton, Ill., we stopped at Rocky Ford Ranch to hear the Becherer family discuss raising market sheep with a twist. They’ve found a niche market by selling smaller-weight lambs. 

After a quick pit stop for supper, we headed back to campus, reminiscing about our stops, the friends we made and the people we met. 

This was a spring break I’ll remember years down the road. Besides seeing different facets of agriculture, I got the chance to learn about how much a career and the agricultural industry can change in a few years.

 I had a great time learning more about agricultural practices in the Midwest, bonding with fellow Purdue folk, meeting industry professionals and getting to know students from other land-grant universities. 

And the class isn’t done yet. We’re still meeting each week to prepare a seminar for students, faculty, parents and others at the end of the semester. To hear more about our trip, join us April 27 at 8:30 a.m. in Pfendler Hall’s Deans Auditorium.


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