Whitney Steckel

Whitney Steckel is the Nebraska Junior Hereford Association president.

To anyone familiar with beef cattle breeds, Herefords are easily recognizable. The medium-framed cattle with the distinctive red body color and the white head are widely known for their fertility, longevity, calm disposition and hardiness.

One of the main reasons the breed is widely known in Nebraska is due to the efforts of the Nebraska Junior Hereford Association. The NJHA is the youth branch of the Nebraska Hereford Association.

According to its directory, the NJHA is an organization that encourages young people of Nebraska to learn about the great potential of Hereford cattle through actual practice. The junior members are guided through the learning process by a group of advisors, themselves seasoned ranchers and members of the parent organization.

Carrie and Cam Ourada are two of those advisors. The couple owns a Hereford ranch north of Burwell, Nebraska.

Carrie is a fourth-generation Hereford producer. Her family moved to Nebraska from New Mexico in 1956. She has been with NHA pretty much her entire life.

In fact, each of her parents had served as secretary for the NHA. She joined the junior association as soon as she was eligible, she said. She enjoyed the multitude of activities in which she participated while in the NJHA.

There are about 100 junior members. Their primary responsibility is organizing the state show. But they also show cattle, compete in national-level quiz bowls, give speeches and participate in certified Hereford beef cook-offs. All this helps them become better advocates for the industry, Carrie said.

There are also thousands of dollars in scholarships available to them. One of Carrie’s dreams is to watch her son show cattle.

“I was hoping to wait a little longer [to become a junior advisor]; until my son was involved in the NJHA,” Carrie said. “But my husband and I went ahead.”

The catalyst for her change of heart was a long-time association member and current NJHA president, Whitney Steckel. It was she and few other junior members who approached her about being an advisor.

“Carrie Ourada has done a lot,” Steckel said. “She has really stepped up to the plate.”

Steckel, 21, is from Taylor, Nebraska and has been in the NJHA for 15 years. Her mother, Donna Steckel, is also a NJHA junior advisor.

A fourth-generation rancher, Whitney plans to go into the family business. Currently, she is studying animal science with minors in agriculture communications and the beef industry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is also on the livestock judging team.

An agriculture advocate through and through, Steckel was involved in FFA all through high school and has been in 4-H since 2005. She has one more year of eligibility for the junior association.

“Then, I’m a full member,” she said. “Hopefully for the rest of my life.”

After serving as secretary last year, she decided to take on more responsibility this year by taking the helm of the junior association. Her foremost duty is to oversee the committees responsible for getting arranging the state Hereford show. As she puts it — “Making sure stuff is getting done.”

“I get a lot of help from the vice-president and the other officers,” Steckel said. “It is quite the team effort.”

She is still involved in all the other activities of the NJHA, though. This includes showing cattle.

“Livestock showing develops character,” Steckel said. “It’s just one of the ways the junior association gives so much to so many young people.”

Livestock showing also involves a great deal of travel across the state – something Steckel also finds rewarding because of the individuals you encounter.

“No matter where you go, you can meet people involved in the breed,” Steckel said. “We like to call it the Hereford Family.”

In time, she also expects to become a junior advisor once she gets herself established.

It is a rewarding experience, Ourada said.

“I’m so glad I can play a small part in the growth of the junior members,” she said. “To be able to watch how they change and meet challenges.”

For more information on the Nebraska Junior Hereford Association, visit www.nebraskaherefords.com/juniors.

Jon Burleson can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.  

Jon Burleson is the Midwest Messenger reporter, based out of eastern Nebraska. Reach him at jon.burleson@lee.net.