UWRF student turns 4-H project into beef entrepreneurship
December 3, 2009
For one UW-River Falls sophomore, what started as a 4-H project around seven years ago has grown into an extensive beef entrepreneurship, taking her to the 2009 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind.
Jayne Dalton, of Pardeeville, Wis., has been a member of her local FFA chapter for five years. Currently a student at UWRF, Dalton is still involved with FFA, though the base of the chapter is four hours away.
“Being far away [four hours, one way] from my operation makes it difficult for me to keep everything up to date, and it’s almost impossible to accomplish daily management,” Dalton said.
She said her Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), which is an application made up of financial records and detailed descriptions of the FFA member’s chosen category, only included one semester of her being away from her operation because the reportable records ended last December. Dalton noticed that her knowledge of certain things about her operation like births, deaths and vaccines, was affected by her absence.
Pardeeville FFA advisor, Cal Bouwkamp, helped Dalton begin her SAE. She said he currently keeps her informed of any FFA opportunities that may arise, and helped her prepare for the national convention
by informing her of preparatory sessions. Bouwkamp will be Dalton’s advisor until she has reached the end of her membership, which will be when she turns 21.
Previously a 4-H member, Dalton’s parents purchased a dozen cow-calf pairs when she was in seventh grade as part of a club project, which she referred to as a “4-H project on steroids,” a completely metaphorical statement, as Dalton’s operation is run completely steroid- free. The beef can’t be considered organic, according to Dalton’s father, Cal, because they do not feed them 100 percent organically grown substances, but they do not use hormones or growth steroids.
The Dalton family farm was mainly a grain business, with cattle used simply to eat the extra hay. The business is called “3-D,” the “3” standing for the three members of the Dalton family. 3-D now includes over 200 head of cattle. Dalton bought her first registered Angus heifer in eighth grade with funds from her pigs earned at the county fair, and set about making most of her stock Angus. Angus are known for being easy to breed.
“They have this thing called ‘calving-ease,’” Dalton said. “I also like the quality of the meat, and customers seem to enjoy it.”
This year only 188 FFA members qualified to be finalists, 20 of them from Wisconsin.
“She’s the only girl,” her father said.
In order to even be considered, an FFA member must first win state. Dalton’s customers, or rather her approach to getting them, helped her win the Beef Production-Entrepreneurship Proficiency Award at the
2009 State FFA Convention in Madison earlier this year and a spot in the national finals.
In order to prepare for convention, Dalton spent her summer and the first few weekends of the semester at home so she could keep her statistics updated. She also took some time to think about future goals and things she would like to see implemented within the next year to year-and-a-half. For example, Dalton hopes to create a Web site for her business during J-term.
“My ultimate goal is to become affiliated with a restaurant that will feature my 3-D Angus Naturally Fed Beef exclusively,” she said.
For the national finals, Dalton spent a stress-filled three days going through orientation, sponsor meetings, interviews and a presentation in front of thousands of FFA members. For the interview portion, the four finalists were taken into an interview room and had to give a two-minute speech about their respective operations in front of a panel of twelve judges, the maximum number of judges in any category.
Dalton was asked questions pertaining to her operation based on what she had written in her SAE and the current state of her beef operation.
Since she is quite far from her operation, Dalton has only recently turned to her father and the hired men on the farm to run her operation while she’s at school. Dalton said she has learned many important things through the FFA program. She said she’s realized the importance of agriculture to modern society and networking between agriculturists. She said she feels that by attending UWRF she is able to
continue to improve her consciousness on both points. Her recognition of the importance of agriculture led her to pursue a double major in meat animal science and political science.
“I hope to support the ag community by being either a lawyer practicing agricultural law or a lobbyist for an ag industry,” Dalton said.
She said that as people become further disconnected from their food, the need to bridge the gap between urban and rural is growing, as is the multi-level government policy affected by those with limited knowledge about agriculture production.
When her long FFA membership comes to an end, Dalton said she hopes to become more active in the block and bridle club at UWRF. After years of building an Angus beef business, Dalton was clear about her specific agricultural interests.
“I like animals better,” she said. “Plants don’t interest me at all.”
Her father pointed out that plants keep the animals fed.
“My checkbook reminds me of that every day,” he said.
Dalton also said she plans to continue to expand her beef operation after leaving her FFA chapter.
“I’ve spent over a third of my life working on this, so to sell out now would be devastating,” Dalton said. “I always joked with my father that if he sold all of my cattle while I was at school, I’d never speak to him again.”