BOZEMAN — Montana State University’s Steer-A-Year program is seeking financial support as well as donations of steers and feed for the 2020-21 academic year.

A student program in the MSU College of Agriculture, Steer-A-Year focuses on teaching students every element of the cattle management industry through hands-on experience feeding and managing cattle during the fall and spring semesters. Students care for the cattle through the winter and spring, collect data including feed efficiency and weight gain and study elements of livestock marketing. The program also incorporates academic courses such as Beef Production and Livestock Evaluation.

Donated steers are housed at the Bozeman Agriculture Research and Teaching Farm. Once they reach maturity and are ready for harvest, the cattle are sold to MSU Culinary Services, where the meat is served in both the on-campus Miller and Rendezvous dining halls.

Benefits are numerous for students in the program, according to Steer-A-Year manager Hannah DelCurto-Wyffels, an instructor in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences and the coordinator of MSU’s livestock judging team.

Cattle Handling at Red Bluff Research Ranch (Photo: MSU/Sanchez-Gonzalez)

“Many of the students who join Steer-A-Year haven’t had the opportunity to raise cattle hands-on before,” said DelCurto-Wyffels. “There are so many elements to the process, and this program allows them to see all of them, from start to finish, while also learning about what factors maximize beef quality and important elements of cattle health at the same time.”

When Steer-A-Year cattle are sold, the proceeds fund travel and competitions for the livestock judging team, as well as facilitate trips for students across the College of Agriculture to attend producer events and meet with industry groups like the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. The trips allow for networking for students and the opportunity to learn about career opportunities after they graduate.

Steer-A-Year produced 33 steers during the 2019-2020 school year, which were all purchased by Culinary Services during the spring semester. While the onset of the pandemic required some adjustment of the curriculum and in-person activities, several of the program’s students stayed on through the spring semester to continue caring for the calves. Students who did not remain on campus monitored their steers’ progress through weight data and GrowSafe feed intake technology, which remotely measures how much a steer eats.

Producers who donated steers receive regular reports from the students, including growth and health information and more detailed results after the steers are harvested. Awards are given annually to the producer who donated the best initial feeder steer, the steer with the top rate of gain, the steer with the best feed efficiency and the steer that produces the best carcass.

“This program creates such important partnerships between MSU students and our producers around the state, and it’s so exciting to watch,” said DelCurto-Wyffels. “Now more than ever, we can’t support our local producers enough, and this is just a reminder of how critical these relationships are. Steer-A-Year has truly become a mutually beneficial project, and we are so glad to be bringing it back again this year. That’s one of the incredible things about agriculture: No matter what, it doesn’t stop.”

DelCurto-Wyffels said to ensure success in their new setting, calves should be weaned, castrated and dehorned before they are donated and should weigh 500-800 pounds. The ideal pickup period for calves is the first two weeks of November. Those interested in donating or learning more about the Steer-A-Year program can contact DelCurto-Wyffels at 406-994-3752 or hannah.delcurto@montana.edu.

- By MSU News Service -