There’s something about being involved with purebred livestock that just makes my heart swell with pride. Now, that’s not to say anything is wrong with raising commercial livestock – I’m grateful for every farmer that produces the vast majority of what I eat every day – but there’s something to be said for getting around people that have such a deep history in raising outstanding animals.
Like many others, the start of my livestock career focused mainly the county fair. Having only a market show, our goal has always been to develop the best market hog out there – usually the result of crossbreeding. Now, while I will say that I love the market hog aspect (my most favorite set of hogs – Grand Champion Pen! – were a set of crossbred “blue butts”), I developed a whole new appreciation and pride for breeding hogs when I got involved with the National Junior Swine Association, the junior leg of the National Swine Registry.
Breeding purebred animals, for me, is an entirely different mindset. Instead of breeding solely for type, you breed for characteristics that will improve the breed – and in turn, all hogs – in the long run. You want to breed Yorkshires and Landraces in a way that will add muscle and leanness to their great mothering ability. You want to add mothering ability and sound structure to the great carcass traits that tend to be associated with Durocs and Hampshires. If anyone can remember how far the pendulum swung towards market hogs that were too lean, too shallow bodied and horribly structured in the late 90s, you know how important the purebred industry can be in making our animals better – whether you’re in commercial production or seedstock production. Having that ability to make an impact is the thing that makes all the difference to me.
Yesterday I got to interview the faculty coordinator and farm manager from the purebred beef farm at MSU and they reminded me how it’s great to be a part of raising seedstock, not only for the pride in your animals, but also for the pride in your people. Throughout the history of the purebred livestock industry, there have been outstanding people that have made a difference – both for animals and for others. There are few things greater than getting to listen to older people – and it doesn’t matter if it’s in cattle, swine, sheep, horses, etc. – talk about those that made a difference in their lives when they were a livestock showman or make a difference in the lives of youth now. That’s huge for me.
As you or your children get involved with livestock – and I sincerely hope you do – I would encourage you to consider involvement in the purebred side of the industry. While both seedstock and commercial production are important for the entire industry, it’s definitely a unique experience to be a part of shaping a breed or multiple breeds. I, for one, am extremely honored to be a part of the great pride and tradition associated with being pure.
There are a lot of exciting things that happened this past week at the 82nd National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. I dropped my first billioniare off at his private plane, I met some of the nicest people in the world, and had my life change in a small way (at least for the next year).
Alexandria Henry was named the 2009-2010 National FFA Eastern Region Vice President.
If you are an FFA member anywhere in the country that has not gotten to meet Alex before, I sincerely hope her travels bring her close to you in the upcoming months. There are very few people that have made the impact on my life that Alex has. I still remember the first time I met her: I was a senior in high school and she was a junior. We were at regional FFA leadership contests and I had come to the extemporaneous public speaking holding room to see my dad, who was chairing the contest. He pointed to the only student left in the room and said, “Have you met Alex? Her dad is an ag teacher, too.”. We muttered our greetings, I talked to my dad for a little bit and left. Little did I know, I had just met the president of my state officer team, my college roomate, my double date buddy, the girl who would let me crash at her house for an entire summer and, most importantly, one of my best friends.
As you may or may not know, Alex is special. She has a heart for not only FFA, but for all people in general. She is the type to leave sticky notes on your desk before you wake up to remind you to have a good day. She may not answer your phone call or text right away, but when she does you will talk for hours and the whole wait seems worth it. She is the one that, when her team is falling apart, becomes the glue to hold us together. The members of the National FFA Organization don’t quite realize how lucky they are about to be. Let me tell you, the members of Michigan FFA will tell you without even blinking an eye.
Over the next year, Alex will have the opportunity to travel from one coast to the other, go to Japan and back, and meet tons of amazing people along the way. She will get to experience this all alongside five other incredible people. Bethany, Chelsea, Levy, Randa, and Chase: you better take care of her for us. We are so happy to share Alex with the 507,000+ members of the National FFA Organization, but know that we will miss her dearly.
Congratulations, Alex, on accomplising your biggest dream yet. We love you!