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324179

A lifetime of learning

When I was little, I had a soft spot for the cattle we raised. I loved all of the barnyard animals, of course, but something about a 1,200-pound animal that would accept scratches under the chin as long as you gave it enough food delighted 7-year-old me. 

Cattle really took first place for me once I was given the chance to raise the bucket calves from my uncle’s herd. Now, maybe this was just a way for my dad to give me a little bit of extra responsibility, but it ended up being a lot more than that. 

All these bucket calves were last-minute placements. They were twins, babies whose moms had either died or rejected them, and they needed care and attention. Each of them had a unique set of challenges that didn’t come with older calves out on pasture or in a feedlot.

Not only did I learn how to parent — it’s important to teach baby calves to not hit you in the face with the bottle when they’re done with it — but I also had to learn nutrition, proper weight gain techniques, and how to evaluate health issues. All of these were really big things to learn for someone who didn’t even fully understand algebra yet. 

But I was always surrounded by people who were more educated about these topics than I was, and, more importantly, who were willing to share that knowledge. I can’t even begin to count the number of times a farmer whose name I didn’t even know would lean over, nudge me, wink, and very kindly correct me on something I was doing wrong. 

As I’ve gotten older and moved into agricultural journalism, the farming community’s desire to share knowledge has not faded. Every time I sit down to interview a farmer, a veterinarian, or an expert in a field, they’re more than happy to tell me everything they know about a topic, and much, much more. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel down to Houston, Texas, to cover the 2022 Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous, as this was my first big convention, and I would be by myself for the first day. But then I remembered: these are cattlemen. I grew up with people just like this. 

The first few sessions I sat in on were incredible: global market trend experts, cattlemen with a vision to better dairy cattle, nutritionists, and pasture management experts. After each session at Cattlemen’s College, I called my parents and gave them a rundown of things I thought might be useful for them to use in our barns. 

During the second day of the Cattlemen’s College, I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the first session to start. An older gentleman walked up and asked if the seat was taken next to me. When I said no, he sat down and started to make conversation. He asked what my name was and what publication I worked for. When I said Successful Farming, he nodded and said, “I read that one,” but he hadn’t seen my name before, so he’d have to look out for it. 

We ended up sitting together for both that session and the session afterward, and he would lean in anytime the presenters made a joke and laugh. At one point, the nutritionist who was presenting made a joke about his wife being a redhead, and because my hair is red, the gentleman gave me a look and a particularly loud chuckle, as did the rest of the room as they turned to look at me. 

When I got up to leave for the last session before lunch, the gentleman said that he hoped I had a good time at the convention, and he would make a note of my name and look for me in upcoming issues. So, if you happen to read this, hello Keith!

After lunch, I attended the general sessions. As I was hustling across the halls in an attempt to get a good seat, I happened to fall in stride with another gentleman. He looked over, complimented my red hair, and told me, “We Red Angus guys notice things like that.” He asked me where I was from, what kind of cattle I raised, and if I was having a good time at the convention so far. We only walked together for a few hundred feet, but we had a lengthy conversation before we reached the doors of Hall B.

The keynote speaker of the convention was George Foreman, who I had embarrassingly texted my mom was “the grill guy!!!” about 15 minutes before he was introduced as a gold-medal Olympian and champion heavyweight boxer. In my own defense, Foreman did say that he was OK with the younger folks only knowing him as the "grill guy." 

Something that very few of us in the hall knew, however, was that Foreman also is a rancher. He showed videos of him driving his Gator through pastures, with cattle following behind, trying to lick him. It was quite reminiscent of me on my family farm — granted much smaller than Foreman’s — also wading through herds of cattle who are trying to lick me.

The final part of the convention, and one of the most exciting, was the NCBA Trade Show. To my fellow Midwesterners, the only thing I can compare it to is the Iowa State Fair. Walking through the booths of brightly colored posters and tables giving away branded merchandise is pretty typical at a trade show, but seeing costumed performers on stilts, magicians, and women with tables for skirts giving out free churros is a little less common.

The trade show covered 9.7 acres, and every single booth had something interesting to show. I’m not much of a machinery girl; I don’t know the nuances of every single new tractor, windrower, or baler that comes out, but listening to all the new products and upgrades in the livestock industry was fascinating.

There was an Australian company — Ranchbot Monitoring Solutions, a piece of precision technology that monitors water levels and quality to help farmers prioritize resources — there to gauge the interest of the American audience. Tucked in a corner was Uber for livestock, and there were countless pieces of technology to make herd management more efficient and effective. I spent about a day and a half walking and talking my way through the trade show, because there was so much innovation to see.

I came away from that convention with article fodder for months to come, as well as just being a more informed cattle producer, armed with knowledge to make better choices on my family’s own farm. I like to stay informed, so if you have any ideas you think would make a great story, let me know: madelyn.ostendorf@meredith.com.

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