The end of a legacy
By Jennifer Carrico
"When this sale is all said and done, people won't remember how many head of cattle sold here today. They won't even know what the high seller was. That doesn't really matter. What matters is this beef barn, this program that influenced thousands of students and shaped the lives of so many people who have gone on to be so influential in the agricultural industry. And after we shut off the lights in this old barn and close the door tonight, that's what really matters."--Cody Sankey, MSU purebred beef cattle center manager
No bull. No cow. No calf. It's the end of a legacy.
Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, was a sad day. My dad and I traveled to East Lansing, Mich., for the Michigan State University Hereford dispersal. It was a day filled with great cattle, great friends and much emotion.
MSU's program, which dates back to 1885, has meant so much to so many people and it has meant so much to me, even though this was the first time I had traveled to East Lansing.
My dad was on staff at the Michigan State University beef barn from 1969 to 1973. It was before I was around, but I felt like I knew everything about that barn and the cattle from all the people I've met who were involved and all the stories I had heard.
These stories never get old. They are stories about how Harlan Ritchie would travel the countryside to find the best cattle he could because the animal science department head, Ron Nelson believed the MSU students should have the opportunity to see better cattle at the university than they can see at home. This should be their place to learn what an ideal beef animal should look like, so they began to build great Angus and Hereford herds.
"Harlan would travel all over and then would let us know when the cattle would be arriving," my dad told me. "When the news hit Anthony Hall (the home of the animal science department) that we had a trailer coming with new cattle, the usual parade of students headed out to the barn to see what Harlan had found."
That was in the late 1960s and early 70s. Those were exciting times. These times continued for nearly 40 years.
The names I would often hear are leaders in the beef industry--Harlan Ritchie, Dave Hawkins, Larry Cotton, Terry Cotton, Erskine Cash, Gary Minish, Neil Orth, Dee Woody, Daryl Strohbehn, Doug Nielsen, C.K. Allen and Pete Sweeney. In more recent times, several can be added to the list--Ken Geuns, Brett Barber, Cody Sankey, Mark McCully, Geof Bednar, David Walker and numerous others who worked at the barn or were students and staff involved in the program.
The MSU program wanted to breed cattle with good performance and good phenotype. This program produced more than 50 grand or reserve grand champion cattle at national shows, as well as countless progeny tested bulls, bulls leased to AI studs, and cattle, semen and embryos exported to every continent except Antarctica.
While producing high-quality cattle was important, the primary focus was always on students and providing cattle for their teaching program.
Too many times, university programs don't think about the big picture and the importance of what they are teaching students. Youth go to college to learn. Land-grant agricultural universities should be a place for students to learn more about livestock and how to make the best better.
Unfortunately, funding is the key factor in keeping these programs going. Just as governments cut funding for agriculture, so have universities. Programs such as this historic MSU herd need to be salvaged. Teaching those in agriculture as well as the general public about the importance of agriculture, livestock, and food is pertinent for the future of agriculture.
Just as Sankey said, it's about the influence that these experiences have on people. These experiences are priceless. Future generations need to be given the opportunities for this kind of success. The MSU program has meant so much to so many through the years. I hope that other universities will be able to look at this event as a lesson to find the funding needed to continue these types of experiences and education for our future generations.
In Dave Hawkins' words, "It has been a great 40 years. MSU cattle have made history for this university and will make history for their new owners."
It's the end of a legacy.