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Program offers opportunities for young people interested in agricultural careers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Today there are many programs to help young people who hope to find work or a career in agriculture. Many colleges and universities offer courses in agriculture, animal science and ranch management. A unique program at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth prepares young people for careers in ranch management. 

 Unique learning opportunity 

Many things about ranch management are unique, and the TCU program is also unique because the students get to experience ranch situations firsthand and see many kinds of situations. The students go on five-week-long field trips and visit 70 different operations.   

“Many ranchers today say they can’t find good young people who are willing and wanting to work,” said TCU Ranch Management Program Director Kerry Cornelius.  “There is tremendous opportunity within the cattle industry today – whether packing plants, feedyards, ranches, backgrounding operations or farming.”  

He continues, “There are also many young women today who are going to agricultural universities and entering many fields – not necessarily just ranch management. More than 50 percent of the agricultural enrollment nationwide is now female.” 

Cornelius shares, even today a high percentage of feedyard employees are women. 

“It’s been a slow transition, but I see more opportunities in the future for women simply because there is such a tremendous need for help, and there are many young women interested in an agricultural career. The women who go through our program are very dedicated and do very well.” 

Economics and ecology 

One of the things required for admission to this program is some experience.  

“We want students to know what they are getting into, and understand the terminology,” states Cornelius, noting working outdoors can be difficult, especially in extreme weather. “Some of the students today come from urban backgrounds, and in those instances we require they go get some experience before they sign up.” 

“We don’t want culture shock for a student spending all their money and time on an education and then get out there and realize this isn’t really what they want to do,” Cornelius says.  

Two of the pieces in the program’s mission statement, which are key to success, are a focus on economics and ecology.   

“Ranches can’t have one without the other and be sustainable,” says Cornelius. “We teach our students how to put a dollar value on everything they do. We are a business school focusing on beef cattle production.” 

 “In the program, we focus on the business side,” he states. “To be sustainable, ranchers need both the economics and the ecology; if they are not leaving the ranch better than they found it, they are probably going the wrong way and it will cost the ranch more.” 

He continues, “We teach science and science-based courses, but even in those courses – whether its range management, nutrition or animal health – we look at what everything costs and the returns.”   

If people are in the ranching business for the long haul, it won’t work if they can’t make a profit. In fact, many people today have ranches as a hobby, with an outside source of income.   

“Hobby ranches are fine, but there are people trying to make a living ranching,” says Cornelius. “In many of those instances, another job is needed to support the hobby.” 

On the other hand, land is often too expensive for most people looking to start a ranch. Cornelius notes it is cheaper to lease land than to own it.  

There are landowners who don’t want to own cattle or do the work involved in ranching; they own land as an investment or for recreation and don’t want to own cattle. Cornelius notes many of those operations are available for lease. 

Another factor is the aging of today’s present ranch owners.   

“This often creates an opportunity for young people,” Cornelius shares. “Some older producers may want to find somebody to come in and operate the business or pass it down,” he says.  

Hands-on program 

Within the program, the five-week ranch tours take students to a variety of operations.   

“The first ranch we visit in the fall semester is in the panhandle of Texas and the second one is in south Texas,” Cornelius explains. “In the spring, we go to southwest Texas and then to east Texas. The last tour takes us into western Oklahoma, western Kansas and into the Flint Hills, the Osage and the Arbuckle mountains.” 

He shares, students have the opportunity to see purebred cow/calf operations, commercial cow/calf operations, stocker operations, feedyards, packing plants and any other kind of beef operation in each region for a broad exposure to various aspects of beef production.  

 “There are three ways to learn something,” Cornelius states. “Students can hear it, see it and do it. They hear it in the classroom, see it on field trips and then we have six major projects where they put what they have learned into practice.” 

  Through this, students put their education to work for themselves and be able to think through ranch management issues. 

The TCU Ranch Management Program trains students to meet the challenges of agricultural resource management, according to Cornelius. In the rapidly expanding job market for agricultural resource managers there are opportunities in many areas, including commodity investment, agricultural marketing and international trade, as well as ranch management. The goal of the program is to prepare individuals to help shape the future of agricultural asset management. 

The faculty is dedicated to teaching principles of managing soils, water, plants, animals, marketing, finance and people, and the curriculum is designed to teach agricultural resource management by combining academics and practical experience.  The faculty strives to prepare individuals for a lifetime of productive and rewarding work. The program is challenging and requires dedication, hard work, careful study and pride in one’s profession. 

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to  

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