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Arena becomes a classroom

Second Tennessee Valley Livestock Conference provides education and fellowship for producers in the state’s eastern region
Story and photos by Sarah Geyer 7/31/2018


For eight hours on Saturday, June 30, this 98,000-square-foot arena served as a classroom for nearly 200 East Tennessee cattle producers. Held in the Walters State Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in White Pine, the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association’s second Tennessee Valley Livestock Conference featured hands-on learning sessions like the cattle-grading demonstration pictured above, led by United States Department of Agriculture Grading Specialists Jodee Inman and Mack Moss.
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Nearly 200 East Tennessee livestock producers attended the second Tennessee Valley Livestock Conference, hosted by the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association (TCA), on June 30 at Walters State Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in White Pine. Tennessee Farmers Cooperative has partnered with TCA as the premier sponsor of this event for the second year.

“We wanted an event in this part of the state where we have so many cattle and cattle producers,” said Charles Hord, executive vice president for TCA. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for our members in this area that would include some social aspects and also have some great educational components.”

Hord added that by holding the event in the center’s 98,000-square-foot arena, the planning committee could include large-scale demonstrations not possible at TCA’s other meeting locations.

“It allows us to have a grading demo, where USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) graders discuss with the attendees exactly what they’re looking for, using a group of calves for examples,” he said. “This year we were able to have a low-stress cattle handling demonstration in a ring with cattle, horses, and various pens and gates. For the final demonstration of the day, two animal science specialists demonstrated using a sonogram machine to check for pregnancy.”

Other speakers also embraced the hands-on environment of the event, like Johnny R. Rogers who included examples of various types of electric wire and the best posts to use for each, as well as samples of recommended grasses. Rogers works with the North Carolina Extension service through North Carolina State University as coordinator of the state’s Amazing Grazing Initiative, a pasture-based livestock education program. Rogers’ session focused on using adaptive grazing management to improve pasture soil health and extend the grazing season.

Following Rogers’ session, Royce Towns, a ruminant nutritionist with TFC, shared pasture management tips for summer fescue and how to avoid fescue toxicosis.

“The long-term solution,” Towns told the audience, “is to replant with a fescue variety containing a ‘friendly’ endophyte strain – a costly endeavor which will require more intense management. In the short term, there are numerous management strategies that allow cattle to thrive in spite of fescue’s inherent shortcomings.” 

The nutritionist shared three strategies that are proven to be low risk with a high return on investment: 1) provide supplements to compensate for nutritional deficiencies; 2) implant calves with a growth-promoting pellet for a cost-effective boost in growth; and 3) add an ionophore to the diet of grazing cattle to increase feed efficiency and improve energy utilization by altering rumen fermentation.

The day-long workshop ended with industry program updates followed by dinner. Speakers for the final session included Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton; National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President-Elect Jennifer Houston; Tennessee Beef Industry Council’s Executive Director Valerie Bass; State Representative Jeremy Faison; and Randy Boyd, a candidate in the current gubernatorial race.

The event also included a trade show, with vendors representing various animal health products and ag-related businesses and groups, such as TFC and AgCentral Farmers Cooperative. AgCentral also provided and installed much of the paneling and equipment used during the demonstrations.

One of this year’s attendees, Mark Guenther of Monterey, is best known for his family’s Muddy Pond Sorghum, but this TCA member is also a cattle producer, raising 50 to 60 head of Red Angus on his Overton County farm.

“When I first started raising cattle, Richard Brown with the Tennessee Beef Alliance had a big influence on making me into a better herdsman,” explained Guenther. “He encouraged me to attend a Master Beef Producer class, and I found it so valuable because it set me on the path to improving my genetics, my cattle-handling facilities, and animal health. Since then, I make an effort to attend as many educational sessions as possible.”

In fact, it was during one of those learning opportunities, this year’s spring meeting of the Tennessee Beef Association, where the producer said he heard about this conference.

“I’ve really enjoyed today’s event,” said Guenther, a customer of both Overton and Cumberland Farmers Cooperatives.  “The hands-on demonstrations and being able to see experts actually working with the cattle are, of course, interesting, but I learned so much from the forage sessions, too. I’m very fond of Johnny Rogers, and I use a lot of his techniques and advice for my own rotational grazing program.”

Whether he’s taking in a demonstration on the arena floor or listening to a presentation from the stadium seats, this producer said he wants to take full advantage of these learning opportunities.

“Going to a producer meeting, for me, is like going to church,” Guenther said. “If you’re going to sit in the back, you’re not serious. I’m going to the front row so I can take it in.”

According to Hord, providing an event close to home for East Tennessee producers like Guenther is not only a way for TCA to support the region’s farmers, but it also provides a platform to promote the organization’s active county associations and its members.

“We’ve been able to put on this event for the second year because of the generosity of our premier sponsor, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative,” he said. “They provided a significant financial investment so that we could rent this arena, and they also provided a biscuit breakfast and a speaker. Co-op has been one of our partners for many years, and we really appreciate everything they continue to do for us.”

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