The Master Cattleman
by Aimee Nielson
Since 2002, more than 3,000 Kentucky cattle producers in 118 counties have earned the title Master Cattleman. This feat is more than a bragging right; it’s a milestone that has made the producers and the industry more efficient in use of resources.
We got together with all our stakeholders and decided that our future with Kentucky beef cattle was to build on the infrastructure we had,” said Roy Burris, beef specialist at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton. “We have a huge forage base, a lot of cattle, cow-calf producers, and a lot of people who want to raise cattle.
To get a pilot program of Master Cattlemen going, Burris worked with Cooperative Extension; others in the College; and representatives from the Kentucky Cattleman’s Association, the Kentucky Beef Network, and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board.
We knew we needed to have the best educated beef producers and extension agents in the country, and we needed to have a brand on our feeder calves that said ‘this is our product,’ ” Burris said.
Sometimes it’s hard for busy cattle producers to find time to attend the 10 four-hour classes of the Master Cattleman program, but the participants have been committed, and it shows.
“We’ve been going with this program for seven years now,” Burris said. “We’ve had more than 3,000 graduates, and in terms of financial impact….all things considered, the Master Cattleman program has made more than $27 million in positive impact on Kentucky’s beef industry just in the past two years.”
One Farm’s Success
Billy Frank Harned operates Harned Ranch in Larue, Hardin, and Hart counties with his son Eli. The primarily cow/calf operation on 1,400 acres is home to some 300 black Angus cattle, hay, soybeans, and silage. The Harneds sell bred heifers, and as a result of the Master Cattleman program, they process their own steers for local consumer markets.
“I can truly tell you I felt like Master Cattleman saved us a lot of money in two or three categories,” Billy Harned said. “It saved us hundreds on our calf crop by showing us how to prevent and treat pinkeye. Our cattle are higher quality if they don’t have bad eyes, especially the bred heifers.”
Billy Harned (left) and his son Eli process their own steers
The Harneds also learned ways to better synchronize their heifers so they get calves on the ground earlier and with more weight on them by sale time.
“If we get our calves 30 days earlier in the year and they are 30 pounds heavier, with 300 cows, that translates to 9,000 pounds,” Harned said. “If calves are $1.20 a pound and you have 300 calves, that’s a gain of about $10,000 a year just on the reproductive end of things. If you save $20,000 to $22,000 a year on feed costs like we have through our Master Cattleman class suggestions, we’ve gained somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000 a year because of the classes. That makes the program more than worthwhile.”
Kentucky remains a top 10 beef-producing state, consistently in the top two states east of the Mississippi River. To stay competitive in numbers and quality, Burris said the goal is to have at least 10 percent of Kentucky beef producers certified as Master Cattlemen.
From his front porch at 609-acre Paradox Farms in Fleming County, Charlie Hunt appears to be one of the most laid-back cattle producers you’ll meet; however, he’s one of the hardest workers around. Managing more than 200 head of Angus/Tarantaise crossbred cattle, Hunt is no stranger to programs like Master Cattleman; he went through similar programs in other states before earning the distinction in Kentucky. His is the demonstration farm for a five-county area.
Advanced Master Cattleman was designed for Master Cattleman graduates who want to gain deeper knowledge in specific areas. Hunt’s emphasis was estrus synchronization and artificial insemination (AI).
“I’ve personally done a lot of AI work over the years, then I got away from it,” Hunt said. “When I came to Kentucky and got involved in Advanced Master Cattleman, it’s made me go back to using more AI. Going through the program is going to show me the costs and returns of using AI for two years now. I expect it’ll show some positive results.”
Hunt combines Master Cattleman knowledge with that from another College program, Master Grazer, and a whole lot of experience and common sense with cattle.
His equipment is scarce, and Hunt likes it that way. He prefers to graze the grass. Successfully rotating cattle and pastures, Hunt didn’t have to feed hay until well into February this year.
“Mr. Hunt’s farm is very unique. He’s got one tractor in his equipment shed,” said Jeff Smith, Fleming County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. “How many people do you know of with 200 cows who do not own hay harvesting equipment? That gets everyone’s curiosity going…they are all wondering what Charlie’s doing―scratching their heads about how he does some things. He’s really good for the county and the area.”
Why It Works
Les Anderson, UK beef specialist, said Advanced Master Cattleman programming works because of the combination of lecture and interactive learning opportunities.
“In my opinion, when you’re in the classroom, there’s really only so much people can absorb,” Anderson said. “But you get them out at the chute on the farm with the cows, in a relaxed atmosphere with their friends, and you’re addressing one topic that they studied in Master Cattlemen, it will impact their profitability and productivity.”
“You show them how to implement the program, and you show them the results,” Anderson said. “It’s the major way to influence behavior change…and that’s what we want. Advanced Master Cattleman will have a higher implementation rate because they are comfortable with it, and they’ve seen how it works.”
Anderson said another key to profitability is for producers to understand what they are producing and find the best outlet for that.
At Harned Ranch, that means selling a high quality end product directly to the consumer at local retail venues. The Harneds took a few seminars at UK, where they learned about marketing beef directly to consumers and about various grilling cuts. They started marketing beef from their steers this past spring.
“Sales go up every week,” Billy Harned said. “It’s a niche market. It seems like people at a farmers market are pretty health conscious. They want to buy meat from someone who is willing to share the story of where it came from. Once you tell them the pasture-to-plate story, they seem to be sold on it.”
Charlie Hunt doesn’t deal with the end product; his focus is producing the best calves possible on lush, fertile grasses. This year, he’s sending calves to a natural feedlot in Iowa specializing in calves raised without growth implants and antibiotics.
The UK College of Agriculture offers something to help any beef producer be more efficient on the farm, whether it’s through Master Cattlemen, Advanced Master Cattlemen, or other programs including Cow College, Beef Integrated Resource Management, Certified Preconditioned for Health (CPH-45) sales, or one-on-one agent or specialist interactions with the farmer. Future plans include a curriculum called Beef ONE to help producers who are just starting out get organized.