Virginia beef producers' day of learning and connection at Virginia Tech
January 30, 2024
This past weekend, nearly 200 Virginia beef producers gathered at Virginia Tech for the Beef Cattle Health Conference, one of Virginia's biggest gatherings for beef producers.
The conference is a day of talks and demonstrations that bring together prominent veterinary and production management experts with producers to share and learn. It's also an opportunity to strengthen the community ties within Virginia's beef industry.
The day's first half started in an almost standing-room-only main lecture theatre in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Litton-Reaves Hall. Faculty from both CALS and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine presented topics including "Precision Technologies" and "Nutrition and Hay Quality." The presentations gave the attendees practical knowledge for enhancing cattle health and highlighted the strong ongoing partnership between the two colleges.
The conference's value with producers was clear. Steve Jones, owner of Legacy at Pine Hill Farm, a Black Angus farm in Forest, Virginia, expressed his appreciation for the event: "The presenters always bring new, practical insights that I can apply to my farm."
Continuing the morning's presentations, Jamie Stewart emphasized the need for producers to have an ongoing veterinary client-patient relationship, given the current shortage of large animal veterinarians in rural areas. "Having your veterinarian see your herd, even if only once a year, is essential, especially with new regulations and how stretched they are right now," said Stewart, assistant professor of Production Management Medicine.
A well-known and familiar face to most in the audience, John F. Currin, clinical associate professor, Production Management Medicine / Food Animal Department, captivated the attention of the producers with insights gained from research from the Veterinary College that will directly help them better manage their herds. Producers listened carefully as Currin presented the findings that will help them determine the right timings and practical steps to ensure a productive beef herd.
All the presenters and attendees were quick to congratulate and acknowledge the hard work by Lisa Ellis McCormick, the Virginia Beef Center of Excellence Coordinator, and her team of volunteers for creating a smooth-running and well-organized event.
Some producers had traveled several hours and from out of state to attend.
"We often travel down to this facility for various events because it offers opportunities we don't have in our state, and we've consistently found them valuable," said Amy Kyle, who, with her husband Alan, has a smaller 30-head cow farm in West Virginia. "I enjoyed Dr. Currin's talk on reproduction this morning. As people who focus on the numbers, we're keen on trying to get more into understanding our feed and our hay and what exactly we're doing or maybe not doing."
Alan Kyle added: "What I take from this conference are insights and connections that help me improve our farm and stay connected with fellow farmers.".
Throughout the day, producers could network and catch up with fellow attendees, many of whom have attended the event for over a decade. The conference, as Stewart put it, "this is a real community," where producers and experts alike shared stories, insights, and laughter, especially during the excellent beef brisket lunch organized to support a local animal science club.
Post-lunch, the hands-on labs, including the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Transportation Lab offered by Currin and other veterinary school faculty, were a testament to the conference's commitment to practical, field-applicable knowledge.
"The goal is to bring at least one bit of information back to your farm and make a difference," said Currin. Other faculty and Virginia Cooperative Extension agents also gave presentations on hay, semen quality, and Pinkeye treatments.
Andrew Barr, who runs a farm at Dublin in Pulaski County with around 300 cows, works with the veterinary college regularly, including visits from faculty accompanied by veterinary students. Barr echoed the sentiment of several attendees. "It's incredibly beneficial to have our ideas reinforced and to gain new perspectives, especially as independent producers,” Barr said. “Often, we find ourselves working in isolation, focused on our own operations. Attending this conference allows us to see how others tackle similar challenges, which is enlightening.”
"Being part of this community is refreshing. Given that we work seven days a week, participating in this event feels like a much-needed vacation,” said Barr.