Terry Klopfenstein: A teacher's long reach

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Upon learning he’d been selected for the 2012 Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame Industry Leadership Award, University of Nebraska animal science professor Terry Klopfenstein says he was surprised. Very few others were though, as Klopfenstein’s long and dedicated service has made a significant impact on beef producers around the country.

Klopfenstein took a position with the University of Nebraska in 1965, after completing his PhD in ruminant nutrition at Ohio State University. Reflecting back on his years at UNL, he says his work with students stands out as the most gratifying. He has advised about 150 graduate students over his career, many of whom now are working in and having an impact on the beef industry. About 25 of his former students work as consulting nutritionists, directly influencing programs in feedyards around the country.

Klopfenstein also helped oversee UNL’s Feedlot Management Specialization program, which provided student internships in Nebraska feedyards. Over 20 years, the program has provided hands-on cattle-feeding experience to about 125 students. University of Nebraska emeritus beef specialist Ivan G. Rush, PhD, who worked at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, says the training and work ethic of the students created strong demand from feedyards, and he recalls one manager saying he would employ every intern the program had to offer. Rush describes Klopfenstein as one of the leading professors in the land-grant university system.

One of Klopfenstein’s former students, cattle feeder Alan Janzen, enrolled in his ruminant nutrition courses at the university in 1981 and 1982. Janzen now owns and operates Circle Five Beef, a commercial feedyard near Henderson in eastern Nebraska. Over the past three decades, Janzen has collaborated with Klopfenstein in feeding trials and utilized results from UNL research. He credits Klopfenstein and the UNL team with recognizing early the opportunity to use ethanol byproducts in cattle feeding and conducting a variety of trials that have helped cattle feeders use those products efficiently and cost effectively.

While Janzen appreciates the value of basic scientific research, he says Klopfenstein has excelled at identifying subjects for applied research with direct benefits to cattle feeders. Toward that goal, Rush says Klopfenstein and the UNL animal science team have fostered cooperation between stakeholder groups over the years, organizing joint meetings with cattle feeders, corn growers, ethanol manufacturers and university researchers to discuss and brainstorm on research priorities.

Past priorities, future challenges

Over the past 40 years, Klopfenstein says, the emergence of the ethanol industry has had a bigger impact on cattle feeding than any other issue, due to its effect on corn prices and the adoption of byproduct feeds.

He and the UNL team first began running trials with beverage-distillers’ byproducts in the early 1970s. That work continued when “gasohol” became a buzzword in the late ’70s and some growers experimented with on-farm distilleries. Interest in ethanol as an energy source then faded for 20 years or so, but when the current ethanol boom began, the UNL team geared up quickly to help cattle feeders capitalize on growing availability of byproduct feeds.

Klopfenstein also has been involved in production-systems research since the 1980s, studying interactions between management and nutrition across production stages. “Every producer has a production system,” he says, “but research tends to focus on components.”

Reflecting on some of the changes in the industry over the years, Klopfenstein cites the critical role of technology. He recalls balancing rations by hand, doing the math with a pencil and paper and weighing ingredients with balance scales. Today’s feedyards feature computerized batching systems and feed trucks with load cells and GPS guidance for delivering rations. Even the ubiquitous cell phone has changed the industry, he says, freeing feedyard managers to conduct business on the run, instead of being tied to their offices.

Looking to the future, he’s concerned that the industry could become too dependent on distillers’ byproducts, as manufacturers explore more profitable markets or uses for the products. Producers will need to be creative and flexible, he says, noting that fortunately, ruminant animals can utilize a wide variety of feeds.

He also believes improvements in production efficiency will become a key challenge in coming years. Much of the progress we’ve made, he says, has been in production volume but not in efficiency. The ability to select for more efficient animals provides a great opportunity. Finally, he stresses that the industry needs a strong, unified approach to counter the efforts of anti-meat and anti-agriculture groups that attack farmers and ranchers and spread misinformation among consumers.

Learning and teaching

Klopfenstein cherishes his interactions with cattle feeders, who he credits with influencing his work and helping educate him about the feeding business. He worked with cattle regularly during his studies at Ohio State University but says he was surprised to learn that cattle feeders in the West fed cattle outdoors year-round. “I was a green kid from Ohio,” he says. But Nebraska cattle feeders helped bring him up to speed.

Over the next 47 years, he continued to experiment, learn, innovate and educate, helping students and the industry find ways to produce beef more efficiently.

Nineteenth-century historian and author Henry Adams, who was a grandson of John Quincy Adams, wrote that “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” In the case of Terry Klopfenstein, his influence will affect the ways we feed and manage cattle for years to come.

Industry Leadership Award

In 2010, the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame initiated the Industry Leadership Award to honor contributions by non-cattle-feeders to the industry. The rich history of cattle feeders would not be complete without recognizing numerous individuals outside the feedyard. From educators and scientists to advocates and policy makers, the contributions of these men and women have shaped modern beef production.

For more information on the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame and all its inductees, visit www.Cattlefeeders.org.

Other 2012 Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame Members:

Bob Rebholtz: Passion and compassion

Willard Sparks: A humble entrepreneur

Hector Pacheco: Leading by example


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