Making connections. Providing opportunities. Giving producers a marketing avenue. These are three of the principles that the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic was founded on 30 years ago. However, as the event has evolved over the past three decades, it has broadened its focus to include the future beef producers with the addition of a junior show, livestock judging contest, career networking programs and the Aspiring Young Cattlemen.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting and rewarding programs that the Classic has been honored to develop. The Aspiring Young Cattlemen program partners a breeder with a young person that has a passion and truly aspires to have their own registered cow herd someday; they aspire to have their own production sales someday,” said Ronette Bush-Heinrich, Executive Director of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic. “This program puts youth in a position that they can partner for a year with this breeder. We lay the groundwork for the opportunity. If both parties take full advantage of the opportunity, they can develop a relationship that will last a lifetime.”
In its third year, the Aspiring Young Cattlemen creates a partnership between a young cattle producer between 14 to 21 years old and an established breeder who hosts an annual production sale. The young people undergo an application and interview process, and their match is announced at the annual NCC, recently held February 13-21 in Kearney. The young people do get to indicate a preference of a breeder or location of a breeder during the interview, according to Bush-Heinrich, in case they are interested in a particular breed or learning more about raising cattle in a specific location like the Sandhills.
The initial year there were four participants, and this year the program has grown to include 12 partnerships. Each youth receives a heifer from his or her mentor partner to assume responsibility of for the next year. The young participant is responsible for taking out an insurance policy on the heifer and is responsible for the overall nutrition, animal health and breeding of the heifer. The young person should coordinate with his or her breeder partner to plan a mating that will get the heifer bred for a March or April calving date the following year, so they can enter the female as a bred heifer in the special AYC class at the NCC. All bred heifers will sell at the Classic, with the proceeds split evenly between the partners.
During the course of the year, the young people are required to have monthly communications with their mentors. They are also required to spend one day on their partners ranches to volunteer their time, either during their sale or another day. Bush-Heinrich said it is common for the participants to visit their partners ranches two or three times during the year as these relationships flourish. She recounts one partnership where the young person attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was partnered with a producer near Lincoln who owned another business. This partnership grew into an opportunity for that student to have an internship to learn about his partner’s other business.
Although the partnerships between youth and producer are the integral for the success of the Aspiring Young Cattlemen’s program, the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic relies on various partnerships for its overall success. Bush-Heinrich said the NCC is a 501 (c)3 and helps appropriate generous sponsorship dollars to fund all of its programs.
“So basically, we are a giant processing center, and those investments are what allow us to bring these opportunities to the forefront for cattlemen of all ages. And frankly, you know connecting the youth, the adult, the communities, and through the education and different events that we do throughout the year.”
BioZyme® Inc., and its brands including Sure Champ®, VitaFerm® and Vitalize® enjoy its partnership with the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic and how it is creating future young leaders through programs like the Aspiring Young Cattlemen. However, for this animal nutrition company, it’s not just a monetary sponsorship that is important, it is connecting with the producers and the youth in the state. Something Bush-Heinrich notices.
“Your team is wonderful to work with, Megan (Bochanski) was here most of the time. Mike (Wadle) was here. Shane Schaake, John Tucker were around, and they do a nice job of being at the Classic and participating in everything we do. They are engaged. They connect. Part of the investment is taking the time to be a part of it too. I appreciate their time,” she said.
Investing in the future can be risky, but when the future is 12 aspiring young cattle producers, it seems that the 12 producer mentors that are taking that risk this year have made a sound investment. The Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic is a great example of providing care that comes full circle in building the future of the industry with its Aspiring Young Cattlemen program.