The Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Center received the 2017 Outstanding Seedstock Producer Award at the annual membership meeting of the American-International Charolais Association (AICA) in Corpus Christi, Texas, this spring.

Dan Eversole, associate professor of animal and poultry sciences and director of beef cattle programs, received the award on behalf of the university.

The Beef Cattle Center's Charolais herd consists of 40 purebred breeding-age females. Charolais were introduced to the Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Center in 1998 through donations and the support of Charolais breeders across the country, led by the late Mary diZerega of Oakdale Farm in Upperville, Virginia. Charolais, a breed of taurine beef cattle from the Charolais area in eastern France, are white colored and are often crossbred with Angus and Hereford cattle.

Agriculture is by far and away Virginia’s largest economic driver and cattle and calves are the No. 2 commodity in the state with more than $714 million in cash receipts. Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension play a pivotal role in this sector of the economy by educating the next generation of animal scientists, researching the newest industry technologies, and sharing that knowledge with the commonwealth.

“We are honored to receive this prestigious award”, said Eversole, who is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “There is tremendous value of having purebred cattle at land-grant institutions to better serve our clientele through the missions of education, research, and outreach. Charolais cattle, along with our other three purebred breeds, provide our more than 600 undergraduate majors with meaningful, real-life opportunities and situations in an experiential learning environment.”  

Eversole teaches several classes and involves students in the husbandry, management, and merchandising of the purebred cattle. Chad Joines, director of beef cattle operations, manages the day-to-day activities and coordinates needs for teaching, extension, and research faculty around cattle.

For example, each of the 60 students in beef production is assigned a pregnant cow that is due to calve and is responsible for monitoring her during calving and assisting with the processing of her newborn. Recording teat and udder scores, body condition scores, birthweights, tattooing, ear-tagging, and administering vaccines are all supervised and performed by the students. 

The more than 100 students in the Livestock Management and Handling course  are required to halter-break a weaned heifer calf within a certain time frame. Exercises, similar to these and others, are well received by the students and provide much-needed, hands-on experiences. Students are able to witness first-hand the human-animal interaction and monitor the disposition and progress in halter-breaking. 

Performance records and ultrasound carcass data are an important part of the breeding program and play into many parts of the operation, which range from cattle sales to coaching students on livestock judging teams. Virginia Tech follows a strict record-keeping regimen. Birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and yearling height are measured and reported to AICA. These data are the driving forces that improve the genetic merit of purebred Charolais cattle.

Floyd Wampler, AICA southeast field representative, said, "Virginia Tech has set a very high standard of leadership for registration, data collection, use of modern technology, marketing, customer satisfaction, and educating college students in the beef industry using their Charolais herd as a teaching tool. We are fortunate to have them in their positions and as Charolais breeders and promoters.”

One of Virginia Tech's purebred herd sires, VPI Free Lunch 708T, was purchased by Select Sires in 2008 as a yearling. Free Lunch has been successful in the commercial industry as well as the purebred. He was named a multiple trait leader in the AICA sire summary.

Livestock and horses that are donated to Virginia Tech by top breeders and producers are gifted through the Virginia Tech Foundation, enabling the university to have superior genetic stock and performance animals that help expand the land-grant mission.