Darke County cattlemen think outside box to promote beef industry

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The Darke County Cattlemen’s hosted its first beef tour in September 2023 and facilitated the delivery of books about farm life to nine elementary schools in the county as part of its education and outreach efforts. (Submitted photos)

Driving south on U.S. 127 through Darke County gives drivers a glimpse of a billboard touting the beef industry.

“The first year we focused on where real beef comes from,” said Erin Horst, president of the Dark County Cattlemen’s Association. “The second year we thanked the community for supporting the local beef industry.”

Route 127 is a major thoroughfare in Darke County with more than 34,000 cars driving past the billboard each year, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Route 127 is famous for the 127 Yard Sale. The event is held the first week of August and spans 690 miles from Michigan to Alabama. Also, people leaving Eldora Speedway — a major attraction in Darke County — go past the sign, according to Horst.

The billboard is just one of the unique efforts by the Darke County Cattlemen’s Association, which was recently recognized by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association with the Outstanding County Award, to promote beef and cattle production in west-central Ohio.

The Outstanding County Award is OCA’s opportunity to recognize the outstanding achievement, industry education and consumer promotion efforts of counties across the state. Activities, participation in OCA events, communication efforts, support of industry youth and a cohesive partnership are all areas of focus for award recognition.

Darke County

With over 343,000 acres of farmland, Darke County is one of Ohio’s leaders in agricultural production, generating more than $500 million annually in crop and livestock receipts. Livestock revenue is generated mainly through poultry, hogs and dairy; however, the beef industry, while not as large, is valued and highly regarded in this west-central Ohio county.

Horst leads the association’s eight-member board, which is focused on educating beef industry youth and long-time producers, as well as informing consumers about beef.

Various ages and levels of beef industry involvement are served at the county level, including feedlot producers that are either straight beef or beef-dairy mix, those who feed out cattle for freezer meat sales, seed stock producers, 4-H members and junior fair participants.

“We’re here for everybody that has cattle within the county,” said Jacob Breymier of JB Cattle Company and Darke County Cattlemen’s Association director. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a feedlot guy or raise show cattle or it’s just a hobby — we teach a lot of stuff about beef quality assurance, proper care and handling, as well as nutrition.”

Education

One of the most valuable aspects of what association membership provides is educational programming. Ideas are generated mainly by the board and feedback from members on topics they would like to cover. Experts and outside instructional programs are frequently used, but some of the best programming comes from the membership itself.

“We’ve found that learning from producers like ourselves, we might find something that they’re doing at their location that we can implement into ours,” Horst said. “That’s been more effective on our end.”

Expanding its outreach efforts, the association recently organized its first pasture walk in partnership with Ohio State University Extension and about 40 people attended. Additionally, it held a beef tour last September, utilizing four of its members’ operations. The tour allowed more than 50 participants to learn about herd health and feeding practices from a feedlot operation, the selection and daily management of show animals, heat synchronization and artificial insemination and animal handling and how to set up facilities to efficiently work cattle calmly.

Members also receive Beef Quality Assurance Training, which allows producers to get their certification and satisfies the quality assurance training requirements for Darke County Junior Fair participants. Beef-specific quality assurance related to the specific species that individual 4-Hers are showing and exhibiting is an important part of the BQA training 4-H members receive, according to Darke County 4-H Youth Development Director Mercedes McFarland.

Furthermore, Darke County youth interested in or involved with beef cattle are afforded the same learning opportunities the county cattlemen’s association offers its members with the intent of building industry knowledge and fostering soft skills. During the 2023 Darke County Fair, the association sponsored a showmanship clinic on the first Friday of the fair to get kids thinking about how to show their animals properly. In addition, county youth have had opportunities to learn about feedlot nutrition, show-animal nutrition, calf nutrition and proper handling of newborn calves.

“From a youth perspective, I feel like we do a really good job of being hands-on and trying to get kids the most experience doing different activities,” Breymier said.

Marketing

The Darke County Cattlemen’s Association has also developed some unique marketing programs to help county cattle producers.

It has utilized Google Maps on its Facebook page to help producers in a couple of different initiatives. One map lists members who sell freezer meat and allows consumers who visit the group’s Facebook page to find local producers so that they can place orders or inquire further about how the beef is raised. Another helps connect buyers with show animal breeders to encourage the purchase of local animals.

Horst’s group has even turned to the airwaves to increase local awareness of the beef industry. Last year’s Beef Princess was featured on a local radio program called Community Ties, which gave her the opportunity to discuss the beef industry and the Darke County Cattlemen’s Association.

Additionally, the Beef Queen and Princess purchased nine sets of books by Amanda Radke, a children’s book author who celebrates farm and ranch life, for distribution at local elementary schools and school libraries.

The Darke County Cattlemen’s Association tries to maximize the value of having an advocacy organization with a presence in the county by promoting the beef industry to members, youth and the community through a number of outreach and marketing efforts year-round.

“The cattle industry is something I’m very passionate about and I enjoy knowing that I’m not the only person in the county that has a passion for it,” Breymier said. “I guess it gives me a little excitement to know that I’m not the only one out here trying to live the hard life and make it work.”

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