Cattle in the Classroom: Educating Students about Montana Beef

Driving through Montana, many car passengers may glimpse a herd of cattle grazing among a backdrop of mountains and wide open space. For the members of the Lockwood Boys and Girls Club, this image was brought closer to home in November when a 6 month calf graced the club with his presence for an afternoon visit.

Buckshot, a 6-month old calf, belongs to Skip King who is a small time cattle rancher and supporter of the Yellowstone Valley Boys and Girls Club. I first met Skip after discovering he had generously donated a hoop house to the Lockwood Boys and Girls Club this past spring for use in our garden program

When I contacted Skip to learn more, I discovered that not only does he own the three locations of King’s Ace Hardware in Billings, he also happens to have a cattle ranching “hobby.”

Skip immediately noticed my interest in his hobby and generously offered to bring in one of his more docile calves, Buckshot, to visit the club! Forget the students – I could hardly contain my excitement!

On a blustery November day, nearly a hundred young Lockwood Boys & Girls club members lined up to spend some time with a “real life cow, not a dog,” as one student corrected another. Each young student scrambled into the straw lined trailer, three at a time, gingerly stepping to avoid any cow dung and gathering around Buckshot to say hello. They spoke in overdone stage whispers, having been warned that shrieking and yelling might scare the calf.

Even the most reluctant left with a smile, though there was quite a bit of nose pinching. “It SMELLS in here!” they exclaimed, unaccustomed to being up close and personal with a farm animal. After meeting Buckshot the club members gathered to ask Skip questions. The students were shocked to find out that one head of beef cattle, which means one cow, costs around 2,000 dollars when it’s full grown, and around 400 dollars when it is first born. Hopes of owning a cow for a pet were visibly dashed as they mentally added up their savings.

Club members also learned that about 45% of the cow is used for meat, and that many ranchers sell their cattle out of the state where they are slaughtered and processed. Surprisingly, the students didn’t mind the idea of eating Buckshot, rather they didn’t understand why he or other calves would be sold to someone outside of Montana.

One student asked Skip, “So can I call you for beef instead of going to the grocery store?” Unless my ears deceived me, that is a direct request for Montana beef getting to Montana families. Let’s continue to educate students about where their food comes from, and before long, they’ll be the ones leading the charge on local meat!