Arizona Beef Council Internship – Sun Devils Love Cattle Too

The summer of 2017 had been one for the books. I ended the hardest semester of my life in Spring of 2017 and then dove into the Arizona Beef Council internship shortly after.

I heard about the internship through my high school agriculture teacher. I thought I would apply along with a few other internships but this one stood outs as it looked like a great learning opportunity and a chance to broaden my horizons. I was sure I would get one of the other internships but was not as confident about this one. A stream of doubt ran through my head. “How, out of all the animal science majors and agriculture giants, would I, a journalism major at Arizona State University, land this internship?” Well, I did, and I can say it had been the best internship of my college career.

My first impression

First, I didn’t realize there would be two interns, and I was a little intimidated by the idea of my counter part; a University of Arizona student majoring in animal science. Was she mean? Did she buy into the rivalry between the UA and ASU and would that affect our relationship?  I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, all of my worries were blown out of the water when I meant my colleague. She is a hard working and committed individual whom I have grown to love and call my friend over the past two months.

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Lauren Maehling, myself, Nicole Van Eerd and Tiffany Selchow at the start of the internship (Photo by Anna Aja)

Then I met my bosses. While I was under the guidance of the Arizona Beef Council staff, I was fortunate to interact with folks from the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, and they all have taught me more about the beef community in two months than I have learned in my 20 years on this earth. They also taught me the importance of effective communication and building relationships with consumers and growers alike.

The Field Trips

Sometimes I still can’t believe was part this internship paid me to go out with my intern compadre, to meet new people and learn more about the beef world in a real-life setting.

First, we went to the Bill Kerr Dairy and visited with Wes Kerr. He explained that just like so many before him, he is using the latest methods and technology to have a successful dairy business. We were lucky enough to see the process of collecting milk from the cows and even go to the barn where the calves reside.

Next, we went all the way down to Nogales, AZ where Dan Bell and Dean Fish took us in and showed us their worlds. We spent half the time on the Bell’s ranch, helping round up cattle, branding, vaccinating and gathering some less-than-compliant horses. Mr. Fish took us horseback to see the Santa Fe Ranch with the bonus of an explanation of the mysteries of life. He also explained how every rancher has different methods of raising cattle, but the goal is still the same: raising cattle in an efficient and safe way to make consumers feel good about what they are eating and to have happy cattle. We left with words of wisdom in our pockets for our future careers.

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Tagging calves at ZZ Cattle Company (Photo by Dan Bell)

I grew up farming with my dad and other members of our family. The sights and smells of alfalfa and cotton were the norm, along with the sounds of squealing pigs coming from the show pig barn at my house. I never really considered myself as a cowgirl mostly because I didn’t know what that really meant. I was a farm girl and a pig girl but not a cowgirl. Thanks to the efforts of Dan and Dean, I was able to discover who cowboys and cowgirls are. They are not just individuals who buy a pair of boots and a felt hat, walking with some sort of saddle swagger; they live and breathe cattle. It’s a way of life and a source of income. I will be forever grateful to have had the honor to live in that world for the short time that I did.

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Nicole and I embarking on our ride with Dean Fish (Photo by Dean Fish)

Then, we came back up to Pinal Feeding Co. in Maricopa, AZ. Our fearless chauffeur, Caline Gottwald, showed us the ins and outs of running a feed yard. It was incredible to see the sheer number of bovine on the property and the massive amounts of feed rations it takes to feed them. Feedlots may not be as glamorous as the dawn rising over the hills of a cattle ranch, but their role in raising beef for consumers is just as important as any other part of the beef life cycle.

It was fascinating to see how well kept the facilities are and the amount of care paid to all the cattle. Feedlots generally have a vet on staff and a nutritionist who make sure the cattle are kept healthy and thriving. Of course, life happens and sometimes it can be hard to work on a feedlot when things are not going according to plan, but I am confident that these devoted individuals do everything they can to prevent and protect their animals.

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Nicole and me at the Arizona/Mexico border in Nogales (Photo by Dean Fish)

 

Lastly came the tour of the JBS Beef Plant in Tolleson, AZ. Our energetic tour guide, Maria, took us through the various stages of meat processing and explained to us the importance of handling the meat safely as well as treating the cattle humanely when they come to their facility. It was an eye opening experience where I learned how my beef came to be from the farm to the table, and I can confidently say I am proud of where my beef comes from.

Convention and Other Fun Events

I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Arizona Cattle Growers Association Convention in Prescott, AZ. There, I talked with cattle ranchers from all across Arizona and learned a bit more about how beef is raised in my home state. It was an amazing opportunity to network and connect with the dedicated ranchers in the Sonora desert.

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ACGA Convention Intern Mackenzie Kimbro and I at the Steak Fry Dinner and Dance (Photo by Heidi Crnkovic)

I also went to the Arizona Academy of Dietetics and Nutritionist Conference in Phoenix, AZ with Lauren.  I was a little unsure how beef promotion would go over in a room of nutritionists, but the results were pleasantly surprising. I was able to communicate my love of beef and its nutrient value to many people and I was able to learn about their health concerns as well.

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Lauren and I at the ABC booth at the AZAND conference

We also went along on the Summer Agriculture Institute where teachers came to learn a little more about where their food comes from and how they can bring that knowledge into their classrooms. Coming from a strong agriculture background, I sometimes forget how little those who do not have the opportunities I have had know about animal and crop production. It was neat to see the important messages cattle ranchers like Andy Groseta had to share about the hardships of raising cattle but that it was worth the end result: food on the table.

Takeaways and Thank Yous

From knowing little about the beef community in Arizona to annoying my family friends with the copious amounts of knowledge I have gained over the summer this experience is something for which I will forever be grateful. I feel I am more educated and can address more consumer concerns about how beef is raised.

I have never felt more welcome and appreciated for my efforts as I have at this office working with Lauren, Tiffany, Heidi, Maria, Kim, Patrick, and Bass. I have made unforgettable memories which I will cherish through the years. From porcine to bovine, I love all meat; but remember Beef…It’s What’s For Dinner.

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Lauren, myself, Nicole and Tiffany at the end of the internship (Photo by Heidi Crnkovic)

The Beef on AZ Beef Council Internships

In March of 2017 I was just your average college student: persistently bugging my professor for more work with cattle out at the feedlot, telling every high school student (and even some 10 year olds) how amazing college (the University of Arizona, of course) and Animal Science is, working at a cattle sale barn, spending every paycheck on my horse’s never ending credit line, dreaming of being back out on the ranch, and making plans for graduate school and a future in the beef community… ok, so maybe not your average college student. But, I was just going through my spring semester with a page long list of all the possibilities for my rapidly approaching summer when my old agriculture teacher, my boyfriend, my best friend, a professor, and several others all told me to apply for the Arizona Beef Council Internship. I looked it up, saw social media, and closed the screen. But after thinking, praying, and, I admit, mostly persuasion, I applied. A phone call interview, follow-up with references (the plus of working for cowgirls in high school is they are very stubborn, very persuasive, and thus the perfect reference), and a few months later, I arrived at the office in downtown Phoenix. Yes, DOWNTOWN PHOENIX! I said a quick farewell to dreams of cool weather and countrysides, then quickly smiled with astonishment and excitement that it was honestly me being blessed with this incredible opportunity to intern for the Arizona Beef Council. This is how the next nine weeks went; well, a very condensed version anyway. (I invite you to read the past AZ Beef blogs to learn more!)

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The ability to work on ranches and be directly involved in the beef community has fueled my passion and understanding towards it.

The first week, Shayla and I were able to join other agriculture leaders and 30 teachers for the Summer Agriculture Institute, a program that teaches kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers about agriculture in Arizona. The intent is to provide the educators with information and resources on how they can incorporate agriculture into their curriculum to educate today’s youth. While I do work with Ag in the Classroom, teaching kindergarten students is very different than teaching adults, and this week further developed my passion for educating Americans about the truth of agriculture and the beef community. Some of the stops included Andy Groseta’s ranch where teachers learned the importance of the relationship between cattle grazing and the health of the environment, a discussion with a forest ranger on the health of our forests, and a dinner with representatives from the Diablo Trust. It was a rewarding experience as we witnessed many of the teachers transform their opinions about agriculture and clear up misconceptions.

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Summer Ag Institute teachers getting personal encounters with Holstein steers at Heiden Land and Cattle.

In the following weeks, we worked in the office with amazing members of the beef community. We gained knowledge in communication, including how to utilize social media and online applications to create graphics, find the correct information, and interact with consumers both online and in person. We developed an understanding of the importance of selecting proper word choice and facts to tell the beef story in an honest yet non-offensive way. It was an eye-opening education. I have been involved in the production side of the beef community, including courses at the University of Arizona taught by esteemed professors, and while I continually interact with people not familiar with agricultural production (including my family), I had not realized the importance of reading one’s audience, selecting proper words, and being transparent and objective in telling the beef story. I also was unfamiliar with the full expanse of misinformation, biased articles, anti-agriculture organizations, and other information that is readily available and promoted to lead consumers astray. My passion for the beef community and telling its story continues to grow every day.

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Tiffany, Lauren (not pictured), and I dropped off beef jerky bouquets on National Jerky Day to promote beef, one of the numerous ways the AZ Beef Council works to link Americans with the beef story.

In addition to working in the office, Shayla and I were fortunate to attend different events as interns including the Women in Agriculture Conference and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) Convention. At the Women in Agriculture Conference, we learned more about future challenges that the agriculture community will face, the importance of women’s roles both in the family and in production, and how to reconnect with consumers and producers not involved in organizations. One highlight was an inspiring presentation by a couple who were refugees from Africa and now own a farm in Arizona.

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The Golos told an inspiring story of faith, perseverance, and dedication to the cause of family and agriculture.

At the ACGA Convention, we were privileged to join many individuals involved in the Arizona beef community. As policies were re-evaluated, current issues were tackled, and connections were made, we saw firsthand how the beef community works to ensure its success along with everyone involved while working to continuously improve how cattle are raised and how we care for rangelands. It was beneficial to hear diverse opinions and explanations for why certain practices are done the way they are done. I also enjoyed seeing current issues that the beef industry is facing and how they handle them. I am very passionate about being involved in, and educating consumers about, the beef community, and this opportunity to work for and interact with numerous individuals in different aspects of the beef community was inspiring and extremely informative. There was a lot of fun, and a lot of education and this experience truly attested to the diversity and team work incorporated into the beef community. I was honored to help contribute to making convention successful.

This amazing internship also gave us the opportunity to meet influential and successful individuals and families in the beef community, which included working tours at beef facilities as well as the rewarding task of representing these families and their stories in Arizona Beef blogs. The first stop on our industry tour was the Kerr Family Dairy in Buckeye, hosted by Wes Kerr. Wes amazed us with his focus on animal welfare and a progressive mentality. He described how his grandfather never imagined the day when all dairies would have shades, and now technology has come so far to include Wes’ work with progressing genetics to have all polled (hornless) dairy cattle. Wes’ dairy was a beautiful example of superior animal care, attention to consumer demands and industry needs, and a progressive mentality. Thank you, Wes!

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Wes explained the importance of cattle rations (feed mixes) and how ingredients are selected to create the best results in cattle while utilizing by-products to reduce waste.

The next stop was a week-long vacation (err, long, grueling work week? In case Tiffany is reading this maybe I shouldn’t brag) down in Nogales with cattlemen Dan Bell and Dean Fish. We were blessed to join them in their daily ranch life, including the opportunity to gather cattle; brand, vaccinate, test, ear tag and castrate calves; ultrasound and palpate cows to check pregnancies; and perform other cattle management practices that ensure proper cattle records, health, and care. We also experienced monitoring and caring for the rangeland including proper fencing and cattle grazing rotation systems. We heard incite on the different ways of handling cattle to match individual ranches, including how to reduce stress for maximum productivity. We also attended the Southern Arizona Cattle Protective Association (SACPA) meeting and learned about current issues facing the beef community including the US-Mexico border, disease, and water regulations. It was an insightful opportunity to learn about different ranches and their management plans, and a refreshing break to be back out on a ranch. Mr. Bell and Dr. Fish were inspiring resources, sharing every detail of their work, showing us their challenges and successes, and giving us wisdom and advice for a joyful life. Thank you, Dan and Dean!

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Vaccinations are a crucial step in ensuring cattle health and a safe beef supply. Administration techniques are chosen based on ranch facilities and the best fit for individual practices and cattle health, and I was overjoyed to help.

Our next stop on touring the beef community was at Pinal Feeding Co in Maricopa. From the cow-calf ranch to the feedlot, this transition helped us learn about feeding cattle and the details involved. We learned more about cattle nutrition and how rations are made and delivered to provide the best care and results from cattle, including the importance of feeding at the right time of day. We learned about the complexity of technologies in managing and keeping records of cattle, as well as caring for sick cattle. Thank you, Bass and Caline! Afterward, we were privileged to tour the JBS Beef Processing Plant in Tolleson where we saw the care that workers take in supplying us with wholesome, safe, and healthy beef. I was impressed by the information our food safety tour guide explained to us. Every step of the process is carefully monitored with safety procedures, health and quality tests, and employees passionate about their jobs and the positive difference they make. Beef truly is a product we can feel safe, and good, about eating, knowing that it is raised with continuously improving sustainable practices, provided to us by families who care and is a delicious and nutritious source of food for ourselves and our families. Thank you, Maria!

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Holstein steers are fed personalized rations to maximize health and gains, with a carefully balanced mixture of forage (hay), grains, and supplements (including minerals and protein).

The beef community tours were not only enjoyable but also an educational look into the Arizona beef community and what the beef story truly is. From the promotion aspect in the office, to a dairy, to a cow-calf ranch, to the feedlot, to the packing plant, and with several stops to look at policies, regulations, issues, and development, I loved experiencing every piece of the beef story and hearing insight from a variety of farmers and ranchers with different backgrounds, scenarios, and ideologies. This experience increased my ability and desire to share the beef story and how cattle are raised by families, for families, in the most sustainable way, ensuring the health of cattle, the environment, and families.

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An important management practice on a cow-calf ranch is checking cattle pregnancies, and one method for this is palpation.

Overall, I cannot begin to express how rewarding my internship with the Arizona Beef Council was. I am incredibly blessed not only to have the amazing experience to learn from and interact with numerous individuals, families, and businesses in the beef community but also to be able to give back and assist in outreach and education to consumers. I gained endless skills and fueled my always growing passion for the beef community. And to top it all off, I was able to work with some of the nicest, most intelligent women in the beef community. One final thank you to everyone who encouraged me to apply for this amazing internship, to the committee who selected me, to my fellow intern and partner in crime Shayla, and to Tiffany and Lauren, my outstanding leaders, who I had seen present several times and never could have dreamed of the amazing opportunity to work with. And of course, thank you to the beef community. Eat beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

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Lauren, Shayla, myself, and Tiffany, the Arizona Beef Council summer team (family).