Current estimates indicate that Tennessee has more beef cattle than any state east of the Mississippi River and the heaviest concentration of cows per square mile of any state in the United States. The beef-cattle enterprise is the largest single agricultural commodity in Tennessee, with agriculture and tourism being the two largest income-producing industries in the state.
The program will be seeded with $25,000 raised via donations from a barbecue held recently at TTU's Oakley Farm in Overton County. The money will be used to provide financial aid to youths who participate in the state's 4-H and FFA cattle programs.
An anonymous donor bought his year's champion steer for $5,000 and paid $1,000 for the champion lamb. Then, TTU officials processed the beef and lamb and invited area dignities to a barbecue at the Oakley Farm on Oct. 5.
A total of $25,000 was raised from those in attendance, a group that included some of the largest cattle breeders in the nation. Cattle ranchers from Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Missouri and Kansas attended and made purchases at the fundraiser.
"Many of these people are clients of ours here at Tech, either being involved with our embryo transfer program or the bull test program located on Oakley Farm. These programs create experiences for our students that are unique hands-on learning experiences in Tennessee, and our students also get acquainted with the owners and managers of some of the largest cattle operations in the country," said Katie Lehnert, assistant farm manager at TTU's 1,800-acre Oakley Farm.
"The hope is that we'll generate enough money to fund next year's champions and support 4-H and FFA kids throughout the state. Then, next year, we'll hold another similar function," said C. Pat Bagley, dean of the College of Agricultural and Human Sciences. "We hope to have enough money in reserve to go out and buy those champion steers and lambs each subsequent year to keep the program going."
Amid the recent economic downturn, the market value for champions has decreased over the years as fewer youths are involved in livestock programs.
"The purchasing of a show steer or lamb, feeding, training and hauling it to livestock shows around Tennessee is actually a money-losing proposition, other than the experience that you get. So our intention is to raise this money and donate it back so it can go to those kids in some form – whether it be prize money or the sale of champions – to make it more enticing for young people to show cattle," said Lehnert. "The experiences gained in the show ring teach youths responsibility and leadership."
Bagley said a healthy livestock show program in the state actually helps TTU identify and recruit quality students for its School of Agriculture. "The show ring part of animal agriculture is only a small part of the industry, but a very relevant part, particularly in training leaders for the future."
This year's champion steer was exhibited by TTU sophomore Hannah Forbes and the champion lamb by Taylor Edwards, a high school senior from Claiborne County.