Dr. Brittany Howell didn't grow up on a ranch. Her mother grew up helping with the family farm in Kansas, and her father got involved helping farm as well when he met her mother in college. She fell in love with the life during a summer job in college. "I was in 4-H and FFA growing up and took agricultural classes in high school," she said - and that's almost always an indicator that a career in agriculture might be in your future - "and my first summer job in college was feeding cattle for a cattle nutritionist." Hanging around a herd of cattle for a few months seemed to have sealed the deal.
That summer job led to further studies and a Master's Degree in Animal Science from the University of Florida as well as working at a commercial feed yard and dairy during school and continuing after graduation. She decided to earn her Ph.D.in Ruminant Nutrition from Kansas State and landed a job at a large feed company after graduation as a beef and horse nutritionist. Today, she's an associate professor of animal science at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, where teaches cow-calf, feedlot and dairy production courses.
"Mom was born and raised in Lawrence and I wanted to stay in Kansas," she said when I asked her about her decision to stay after getting her doctorate from K-State.
"I love being a part of this industry and being involved in shaping its future," she said. Certainly her involvement in the Kansas cattle industry was an almost complete immersion in the business. Always ready to lend a hand, she became a member of the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Beef Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. At Fort Hays, she is a member of several teaching organizations, has been an advisor and is currently a national officer for the Block and Bridle Club and serves on various university committees.
Dr. Howell lives the life at work and at home, too. Her husband, Danny Howell, is assistant manager for Brookover Feed Yards, one of the oldest and most well-known feed yards in the country. They have three children, and Shawna, the oldest, helped introduce Brittany to her father. She got her animal science degree from Fort Hays State University and her Masters’ degree and teaching certification from Kansas State University. She’s married and has four children.
Skylar, his son, breaks, trains and shoes horses, and in his spare time runs stocker cattle. He is also married and has a daughter. Shancee, the youngest daughter, recently finished her Master’s Degree from New Mexico State University in Ag Business and is currently working for Crop Production Services in Arizona.
Talking about the future, she said, "We've had cattle in the past but we don't have any now. We're planning to get back into it as soon as the opportunity arises, though." With her Fort Hays teaching job and Danny's work at Brookover, tens of thousands of cattle are never very far away.
Recognizing her contributions to the Kansas cattle business, she was nominated three years ago to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board by a consortium of the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Cattlemen's Association, Kansas Dairy Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau. Her appointment was announced in December, 2010 by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
One month later, she participated in new-member orientation and attended her first meeting of the full Beef Board at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention in Denver just a few weeks later. First serving on the Advertising Committee, she moved to the Taste Committee following the restructuring of the committee groups last year.
"Our committee work is still a work in progress." she said. "We're focusing on appeal; if beef tastes better and is more consistent, people will buy more. Right now, we're listening to work plans and proposals. We want to know how we analyze taste and communicate it to the public."
"My first term as a board member is coming to an end," she said when I asked her about her experience. "I've absolutely loved it, I've learned a lot about our industry and I've met so many great producers. I love being involved and doing my part."