For the 13th year, McNeese State University is fostering connections between student learners and the local agricultural industry with its Heifer Development Program located at Fuller Farm in Kinder.
The program was started in 2008, after Bill Fuller of Kinder partnered with McNeese to use his 800-acre cattle operation to build a special program to help local cattle producers, one that would improve the quality of herds by helping producers to select and manage replacement heifers without having to provide their own facilities, labor and feed.
Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences Dr. Chip LeMieux says the partnership provided a unique opportunity for the university to support the local agricultural community.
“McNeese faculty and staff have the resources and expertise to contribute to the local cattle industry, which is a crucial economic driver for our area,” he says.
Heifers are committed to the program on a consignment basis from November until April. During that time, the cattle are fed special diets and monitored closely, while producers are provided with a monthly report on the animals’ growth performance, including weight, body condition, intramuscular fat, carcass merit and a relative temperament rating. Additionally, heifers can be entered into the breeding program and be artificially inseminated at the conclusion of the feeding period.
Since the program’s start, nearly 2,500 heifers from across Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have participated.
“We give producers the data we collect, and if the heifers have done well, they can hopefully produce calves that can be used as replacements rather than buying additional stock,” LeMieux says. And while repeat customers are always welcome, he adds that the program is designed to help producers be self-sustaining. “If we’re doing the right thing, producers are getting replacement heifers to put back in their herd. They’ve gotten a better female and they don’t need our resources for several years and then they can come back to us.”
In addition to providing support to the agricultural industry, the program also provides research and educational opportunities for students at the Harold and Pearl Dripps School of Agricultural Sciences at McNeese.
“We’ve had several graduate theses that were based on research conducted in conjunction with the program,” says LeMieux. “Our graduate students have explored topics ranging from the educational and economic impact of the program to scientific research on subjects like artificial insemination of heifers with different types of estro-synchronization protocols to how different types of nutrition and forage affect animal growth.”
The program also offers the chance for undergraduate agricultural sciences students to get hands-on experience in their field. Four students employed at Fuller Farm part-time help faculty and graduate students collect data, perform tests for research purposes, administer medications with different application methods and place ear tags on animals.
“Students also have the opportunity to connect and network with producers from across the state and start making the professional connections that help them with employment after graduation,” adds LeMieux.
The program also hosts educational field trips for local high school students to familiarize themselves with the workings of the cattle industry, as well as what the McNeese program has to offer.
“It’s a great resource,” says LeMieux. “Through this program, we’re able to be an asset to these cattlemen by providing them with the resources, as well as the research and education, to improve their herds.”