When she was named executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in 2017, Erin Beasley became the first fe- male to head that organization. A cattle farmer herself, she holds degrees in meat science and muscle biology from Auburn University, where she was president of the College of Agriculture and was named the Outstanding Student Award winner for Meat Science. She has received many national and collegiate awards, including the Great Idea Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She currently directs the 9,500 members of the Cattlemen’s Association, one of the top three such groups in the country. She and her hus- band, Chad, a contractor, live in Notasulga with their two children, Hunter, 4, and Tatum, 3 months. We talked with Erin about her life promoting the beef cattle industry in our state. – Lenore Vickrey
Tell us about your growing-up years.
I moved to Alabama in 2004 to attend Auburn University and have been in the state ever since. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. Ironically enough, I did not grow up in a cattle family. I was involved in the horse industry while growing up, which had me working on a farm every summer. My fondest memories were working and sweating in the Florida heat! I was also involved in 4-H as a kid along with different horse breed organizations that developed my interest in the livestock industry. Once I moved to Auburn, I majored in animal science and immediately got involved in all things livestock to “catch me up” on experiences I didn’t have as a child. I found my passion, to say the least.
Do you have a special fondness for cattle, or do you love all animals?
In general, I am an animal lover but I do have a fondness for cattle and I am excited to raise my kids on a farm. I didn’t get to spend my first 18 years entrenched in the industry, but I hope to be the rest of my life. My degree from Auburn is actually in meat science, so I have a genuine interest in the entire beef cattle cycle. I consider it a blessing that I not only get to advocate for the industry I love, but enjoy raising our product as well. It is something my husband and I can do together and involve our children as they get older.
Did you ever see yourself as becoming the head of a large organization of cattle farmers?
I definitely did not. When I look back at the last 15 years, I can honestly say I have been in the right place at the right time. I have had tremendous mentors and influencers in my career. I firmly believe I have found my niche in the industry because association work is a relationship and advocacy business, which I thoroughly enjoy. I also get to work for and represent some of the best people in the state, cattlemen.
What is a typical day like?
A day is hard to pinpoint because no two are the same, which keeps life interesting! Time management and juggling a lot of balls is the hardest part of association work. My main duties include overall management of the association, lobbyist for the cattle industry and editor of the Alabama Cattleman magazine. We have other large events and tasks that I am responsible for such as our annual Convention and Trade Show and the SLE Rodeo in March. My day to day also includes an open ear for any member issues or assisting my team where they need me on other association matters.
The bamabeef.org website says today’s cows are much heavier than previous years, but that the beef is much leaner due to improved genetics, nutrition and better management. Can you talk about that?
The beef industry has done a tremendous job in efficiency the last 40 years. Thanks to continuous progression in genetics, nutrition and management, cattlemen are producing more with less each year. We are the definition of sustainability because of this. If you take a minute and Google pictures of cattle or beef from the 1970s you will see that cattle used to be really short and thick. Steaks used to have an inch of fat thickness. Today, our cattle are medium to large frame, are finished at around 1,400 lbs and produce about 1⁄4 inch fat thickness. That is a success story for the industry. We continue to produce a product that our consumer demands. Additionally, we now have over 30 cuts of beef that are classified as lean by the USDA but we have not sacrificed taste as we do it.
What is it about Alabama’s climate and land that makes it conducive to raising cattle?
Most people don’t know it but 2/3 of the land in the US is not conducive for crop production. Luckily, we can grow forages on this land which cattle graze and convert into a high-quality protein. In Alabama specifically, we can grow a diverse range of forages because of our annual precipitation and various soil types. To give you some perspective, cattlemen in the western states graze one cow/calf pair to over 40 acres. In Alabama we can graze one cow/ calf pair to every acre and a half to two acres depending on the forage quality.
What is the current ACA membership?
Our membership is over 9,500 members across all 67 counties in the state. We are a grassroots organization in that our counties do a fantastic job at recruiting members that help us generate such a large membership each year. ACA consistently ranks one of the top three cattlemen’s association memberships across the country.