Steer-a-Year course teaches beef production from hooves up

January 20, 2006
Vanessa Klingensmith takes a turn feeding cattle at the Steer-A-Year barn on the OSU campus. Photo: Bob Rost.
Vanessa Klingensmith takes a turn feeding cattle at the Steer-A-Year barn on the OSU campus. Photo: Bob Rost.

CORVALLIS - From lecture hall to barn stall, Oregon State University's "Steer-A-Year" course combines book learning with a lot of hard work to help OSU animal sciences students develop problem-solving and leadership skills as they tend to the daily tasks of producing beef cattle for market.

Offered in the OSU Animal Sciences Department, the course is unique in creating what amounts to a working cattle feedlot operation at campus instructional facilities in Corvallis, where students conduct all the tasks that happen in a commercial operation.

The course extends through the fall, winter and spring quarters.

"This is a hands-on course where we challenge the students to do the decision-making required to run a successful beef production business," said Chad Mueller, an assistant professor of animal sciences and course instructor. Mueller supervises the course along with Clint Sexson, instructor and manager of the OSU Beef Center, run by the Animal Sciences Department.

Students run almost all facets of the cattle feeding operation, including daily health checks, vaccinations, formulating feed rations, obtaining feed supplies, conducting periodic animal performance evaluations, evaluating beef quality after slaughter and marketing the finished beef product, said Mueller.

"The emphasis is on teamwork and effective management with everyone working toward the same goal of producing a high-quality product," he said.

The OSU Animal Sciences Department developed the Steer-A-Year course in 1989 in cooperation with the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. Most of the cattle used in the course are donated by Oregon ranchers and Pacific Northwest cattle feedlot enterprises.

"Several former students from the course have gone on to the cattle feeding industry and have done very well," said Jim Males, who heads the department.

Mueller added that the majority of students taking the course want to broaden their general knowledge of agriculture in preparation for careers as veterinarians, agricultural education instructors or in positions with livestock health and nutrition industries.

Vanessa Klingensmith and Miles Looman-Nelson are good examples.

Klingensmith is planning a career as an Extension Service 4-H Youth Development program educator, while classmate Looman-Nelson intends to enter the veterinary medicine program at OSU.

A graduate student working toward a master of agriculture degree, Klingensmith is in the course to "learn more about basic cattle operations."

"I hadn't been around cattle very much coming into the course, so that took some getting used to, but I like how the course is all student run," Klingensmith said. "We do all the day-to-day work."

Looman-Nelson, a senior in animal sciences, came in with special interest in the cattle nutrition and health component of the course.

"I'd never been around cattle before and wanted to get some experience working with them before I start my veterinary medicine degree," he said. "Giving the animals vaccinations was a new experience for me. Sometimes they get pretty jumpy, like they know what's coming. The course has given me a lot of confidence in my ability to work with larger animals."

Males said he isn't surprised that many students come to the course with similar objectives but a variety of different goals.

"The Animal Sciences Department at OSU has evolved over the past 15 years to meet the changing needs of students," he said. "Over this time, the Steer-A-Year course has continued to offer a very important basic part of animal sciences education, hands-on experience with agricultural animal production."

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Chad Mueller, Jim Males