Hands-on experience for students drives innovative new heifer development program at Iowa State University

The Department of Animal Science is excited to share a new hands-on learning experience for students interested in beef cattle management and marketing. This unique experience for undergraduate students, the heifer development program, was developed by beef farms manager, David Bruene, along with Associate Professor Brad Skaar and Professor Dan Loy who teach the beef production and management/marketing classes in the Department of Animal Science.

Heifer buyback, Bruene and Sorensens   

Pictured from left to right: Dave Bruene, Robert Sorensen, and Bruce Sorensen

“This program was created to give students the opportunity to have a real industry experience with hands-on activities that help them learn how to manage and market commercial breeding stock,” said Skaar, associate professor of animal science. “And it allows the beef teaching farm to create a closer connection with their bull customers.”

These customers purchase bulls raised by Iowa State University for their superior genetics and conformation. The buyers then introduce the bulls to their breeding herds in an effort to produce feeder calves and replacement heifers, the latter of which the department purchased for this program for the first time.  

The program spans three different semesters, giving students in each semester a unique experience. The first class starts with preparation for the arrival of the replacement heifers. Students from the capstone Beef Systems Management class develop a feed ration plan, budget and business plan. The students learned these are some of the most important factors in successfully managing a beef enterprise.

The class also had input in selecting the 20 heifers that would be purchased for this program over a virtual meeting during 2020. During this meeting, Bruce Sorensen and his son Robert, both Iowa State alums, who together have purchased many bulls from Iowa State over the years, talked about a few of the management practices they implement in their business located in Lawton, Iowa.

Jordyn Delzer and Ethan Hornbuckle, two students who took the Beef Systems Management class, agree the new heifer buyback program has allowed them to gain hands on experience in various aspects of the beef industry. Jordyn enjoyed learning about the financial side of the cattle industry, pointing out that it is one of the most important aspects but only observed behind the scenes. While Ethan also enjoyed the experience with financials, he found the nutrition and ration formulation to be extremely important and interesting. He appreciates they are getting first-hand experience with the same cattle nutrition programs being used by producers across Iowa to create rations for their own herds.

The Department of Animal Science is please to share that the heifers purchased from the Sorensens last fall for the heifer development program were sold as bred heifers at the Tama Livestock Auction in January 2022, and the sale of the heifers generated a net profit as would be the case for a commercial producer in Iowa.

Skaar, Heifer buyback program

Pictured: Brad Skaar speaking to buyers at the Tama Livestock Auction while selling the bred heifers from the heifer development program

“We will plan to continue this hands-on, real life learning experience and beef cattle enterprise, and plan to engage our students in our seedstock merchandizing classes in the development and marketing of the heifers, along with the existing efforts to market our bulls and conduct the biennial purebred seedstock female sale,” Skaar said. “We also appreciate the helpful input of Charlie and Jenny Peters and their family for their advice as well. They are one of the most well-known heifer development operations in the state of Iowa.” The entire family spoke to the ANS 426 class, and provided valuable guidelines and advice for success.

This heifer development program is just one example of how Iowa State’s Department of Animal Science is using innovative ideas to prepare students for a successful future in the animal agriculture industry.

For more information on animal science courses with hands-on learning in the beef industry, please visit: https://www.ans.iastate.edu/students.