This past year has brought an abundance of fortunate opportunities my way, including being selected as a member of the 2014 Kansas Livestock Association Young Stockman’s Academy. Walking away from my YSA’s last class meeting at the KLA convention a week ago has my heart and mind full. My heart because I walked away from an amazing experience with 19 new friends who genuinely care about each other on a personal and professional level. My mind because over the year, all 20 of us were exposed to detailed aspects of the beef industry from genetic planning to consumer decisions and everything in-between.

In 2006, KLA started YSA to engage young cattlemen and women in their 20s into the association to insure continual membership and diverse involvement, and it has been tremendously successful. After ruminating on this year’s activities spent with my own YSA class, I can confidently tell you the future of the beef industry is in good hands.

Generation Y or Generation Why?

(Born in the early 1980s to early 2000s)

Millennials – often times I’m slightly amused at the diverse judgment my generation is faced with. Countless times I’ve heard us referred to as lazy, self-entitled, and narcissistic – aka “Generation Me.” Other times we’re viewed as lacking in determination and drive, a vicious cycle fed my too many participation ribbons and trophies to the losing team. Conservations as such are usually accompanied by a head shake and the muttered words of, “Damn kids these days.”

On the flip side, marketing gurus look at us like we’re some type of mystical creature sitting in a glass box as they so desperately try to find a way to sell us their products. They’ll refer to us as impatient and convenient driven – aka “Generation Now.”

While each analysis has shreds of truth to, and some more than others, we’re really not that complicated. Yes, we’re impatient, only because we’re addicted to efficiency. The social media empire brought on by the evolution of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few, have brought an immense desire to my peers to share their daily lives with as many people as possible. In short, it’s given my generation a platform to let their voices be heard.

You’re probably scratching your head wondering, “How is this going to help the beef industry?” The answer to this question is because millennials should be more appropriately labeled as “Generation Why.” To some people’s disgust and others delight, we question everything - from the food we eat to the car we drive, everything gets checked out. 

Key note speaker at the KLA convention was investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of the bestseller book ‘‘The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.’ In a nut shell, Teicholz investigations debunked popular research endorsed by the American Heart Association, claiming high protein and diets with fat are healthier than those supplemented more heavily with grains and carbohydrates.

Something that caught my attention after her talk were the conversations amongst the crowd – older generations were eager to embrace her message while the younger crowd held it at arm’s length, asking how she came up with these findings. 

The questions didn’t stop there. By 1 a.m. after a few brews with my YSA class and several different conversation topics, things turned to a serious note. One of my classmates is a feedyard manager that operates by buying salebarn calves and then turning them around on an intense health program.

 “Why is it that there are some producers that don’t make their calf health a priority?” he asked. “What has to happen for high risk calves to become less common so the total death loss in the industry is lower and efficiency higher?”

Another classmate runs a commercial cow-calf operation with his dad. They utilize a preconditioning program to market their calves on a premium at weaning time to feedyards. “As a cow-calf producer that sells to feedyards, how can I find out how my calves finish?” he said. “We can’t seem to get the ending data that tells us where we stand on a production level and if things need to be changed.”

While these are simple questions, the future is going to yield answers – and I have a feeling on the positive side. The mindset of, “Because that’s the way Grandpa did it,” is steadily becoming a saying of the past – improvements are wanted and improvements are going to made. It started with the progressive thinkers before us and has become an everyday occurrence.

Change is hard, but change has to happen to move forward and improve.

Here’s my challenge to you: Next time you’re around a young cattleman or woman, strike up conversation. Get their opinion on ag policy, ask them about management ideas, pick their brains on technology within the industry. I think it’ll leave you hopeful and surprised.