In an effort to bring young people back to cattle ranching, specialists at New Mexico State University have developed a pair of educational programs -- the Youth Ranch Management Camp and the US Beef Academy – aimed at teenagers interested in ranching.
The second annual New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp took place June 3 through 8 at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico.
"The event is designed to be a unique educational experience and last year's camp definitely exceeded our expectations," says Manny Encinias, NMSU Extension beef cattle specialist and camp committee member. The camp, designed for 15 to 19-year-old New Mexico youth, is an effort to reverse the aging trend in ranching. Nationally, the average age in the ranching community continues to increase as more young people are opting to leave the ranch for careers outside production agriculture.
As a result, the fabric of rural economies, as well as ranching tradition and cultures, are in jeopardy. In a rural state like New Mexico, the situation has significant implications.
Last year's 29 camp attendees represented ranching families from 19 New Mexico counties.
With positive outcomes from last year's camp and the strong support of the program by the state's beef industry leaders, the planning committee hopes to have more youth from across the state apply for this year's camp and fill the 30 available slots.
"The ranch camp is a tremendous opportunity for high school youth and is the first of its kind across states I have been involved with," said Dennis Braden, general manager of Swenson Land and Cattle Co. in Stamford, Texas, and a camp volunteer and presenter.
"What the kids learned at the ranch camp has a direct impact on the quality of beef produced for future generations," said Dina Reitzel, executive director of the New Mexico Beef Council. The council was one of many industry organizations and companies that helped sponsor the inaugural camp.
The 30 youth selected to attend this year's camp received training in all aspects of ranch management.
The camp is "packed with information," according to 2011 camp attendee Katrina Benson, whose family ranches in northern New Mexico. "We fabricated our own beef carcass, got to feel inside of a live cow's stomach," said Benson, "I now know how to give shots correctly to cattle, how to monitor rangeland, manage wildlife and their habitats, and lastly, how to market beef."
"Participants will leave this experience with a greater appreciation for not only new skills and practices, but also the economics of each practice as it relates to cash flow for a ranch in the Southwest," Encinias said.
Throughout the week, participants work in teams and ultimately present a ranch management plan before a review panel as they compete for prizes and scholarships.
According to Benson, who was on last year's champion ranch management plan team, the camp structure and volunteers brought out "self-discovery, helping each of us find and tell 'our ranching story' to discover who we are as ranchers. I learned more in my week of ranch camp than in any other summer program I've attended!"
Learn more about the New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp.
The program’s hosts note that participants in the The NM Youth Ranch Management program often ask "When is the next camp?" So to expand on the experience, they offer the US Beef Academy (USBA), to youth from across the United States. The USBA is tailored as an advanced, applied educational experience for youth between the ages of 15-19 with a sincere desire to be the next generation of beef industry producers and leaders. Participating youth leave this unique experience with an expanded toolbox of new concepts and ideas, advanced technologies, and applied skills that are currently being used throughout the beef industry to improve efficiency and profitability.
The goals for youth who attend this event are two-fold: 1) introduce them to subject matter they can take back home to the ranch, and 2) expose and provide direction on future educational and career opportunities across various sectors of the beef industry.
Like the annual Youth Ranch Management Camp, the US Beef Academy is a unique event at one of the West's most historic ranches. This year’s event took place July 8 through at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.