Students beginning their own beef cattle enterprises while in college are relying on solid genetics and the annual multiplier effect.

Since 2007, students at the Nebraska College of Agriculture in Curtis have had the chance to learn hands-on cattle production, beef science, and agribusiness planning through a specialty program called the 100 Beef Cow Ownership Advantage. 

Once completing their 100 Cow “capstone” course at the end of their second year in college, the graduates are fully prepared to seek financing through their commercial lenders or from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency with low-interest rate loans.

Beginning in 2015, however, thanks to donors and mentors across the state, these students can actually begin hands-on work toward a beef herd while still in college through NCTA’s new Heifer Link program.

After successfully completing an application process, the approved students will be assigned a yearling breeding heifer from the NCTA nucleus herd for their final semester on campus.  Recipients will assume responsibilities for nutritional and reproductive management.

“Then, when they graduate in May, 2015, they will be able to leave campus with a bred heifer to start their herd,” explains Fred Bruning, a Bruning, Neb., banker, cattleman and originator of the Heifer Link project.

He saw the value of NCTA’s technical courses and strong production emphasis while his son, Reiss, attended NCTA.  Reiss went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and today is back home, farming and operating the family’s cattle business.

“We wanted to give something back to NCTA, and to help young producers get their start in cattle production in Nebraska,” Fred Bruning explains. He and Reiss are donating the first heifer to the project.

Heifer Link advisors (which includes several longtime Nebraska beef producers) believe the project will enable anywhere from 7-15 students a year to meet the course criteria.  Livestock management or 100 Cow students are eligible to apply and put in some “sweat equity” to receive a breeding heifer.

“The NCTA Heifer Link program offers a great jump start into the industry,” says Douglas Smith, NCTA animal science professor and Ag Production Systems division chair “The students have the benefits of making decisions under the watchful eye of animal science faculty and beef industry professionals.”

Since its inception, nearly 80 students have graduated from NCTA in either the 100 Beef Cow or 100 Acre Ownership Advantage programs.  Nearly a third of those are actively engaged in livestock ownership, Smith said. Some operate their own enterprises, while others are livestock managers. 

NCTA Dean Ron Rosati recently unveiled highlights of Heifer Link to members of Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Farm Bureau at their annual meetings.

Other presentations are planned next month with the Sandhills Cattle Association, based in Valentine, and with other supporters of beginning farmer and rancher efforts.

“We are excited to help young producers to leave campus with that first animal that is theirs to own and manage,” Rosati said. “They will get a calf the next year, and if it is a female bred with gender-selected semen to produce another heifer, for example, that multiplier affect can help grow that foundation herd quickly.”

Financial or animal gifts are handled through the University of Nebraska Foundation, with heifers becoming part of the NCTA spring-calving herd.  Financial gifts will help purchase a heifer from within the herd, or to assist in feed or other expenses while the animal is property of NCTA.

Upon graduation, the student assumes ownership of the taxable gift.

Advisory group member Bill Rishel of North Platte said not only will Heifer Link assist a beginning farmer or rancher, but it encourages individuals to “pay it forward” when able to do so with gifts back to the nucleus herd, and with their industry involvement.

“I would like to see these students develop a relationship with a heifer donor or with other mentors in the business. We can help a young person with advice, perhaps an internship, and the encouragement to become active in their local, state and national cattlemen’s organizations,” he said.  

“This is more than cattle ownership,” Rishel added. “Heifer Link is about youth development and becoming a viable part of the largest industry in Nebraska, thus enhancing the economic vitality of rural Nebraska and the state’s economy as a whole.”

Additional information about becoming a Heifer Link partner or for details on NCTA’s 100 Beef Cow Ownership Advantage, call 1-800-3CURTIS, or find the Heifer Link Specialty Program at ncta.unl.edu.