The Hat

by Kevin Thompson

The hat . . . a black, 40x Resistol.

New, it was a brilliant black felt with a perfectly shaped crown and brim with crisp clean edges. The small modest silver buckle coupling the hatís band together was bright and untarnished. Today, following 25 years of experiences involving failure, success, joy and tragedy . . . that hat I still wear. Now, its brim, instead of perfectly shaped, is tilted with unique character. The brim edges are no longer crisp but now rounded and slick. The brilliant black felt has acquired stains of dust, mud and manure from barns, pens, pastures and corrals across many cattle operations and acres. That silver buckle remains, but now tarnished with years of holding that hat band soundly without fail.

This hat was built for a lifetime of use, not to be carefully placed on a rack and admired then forgotten. It serves as a tool with purpose . . . comfort on a cold winter morning, shade on a sunny day, cover from a Fall rain shower, and even a tool of protection when unseated from a fresh colt in training or a blinder deflecting a nervous steer. We all begin our stockmanís journey in many ways similar to the nature of that hat . . . new, fresh, a bit naive and even, at times, too bold and shiny. As I look back, I can say that my life experience has been formed by the influence of many people, opportunities and institutions, alongside that hat. This brings to mind the methodology by which each of us have the opportunity to grow/ mature/learn from the influences around us and utilize them as tools that contribute to our success and ease our failures. As we are blessed to begin a New Year, we should reflect upon our past, that we might appreciate the steps we have traveled and pick up a new trail that will keep us moving in a positive and meaningful direction in our lives, faith, families and operations.

Just as that hat isnít meant for the closet or useless decoration, it fulfills its purpose as a tool for benefit. I would like to parallel that function to how programs provided by our land grant university, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, can be a beneficial tool within our livestock operations.

Bringing value, whether straightening out fresh calves for a stocker program; breeding and producing seed stock for bull markets; or a commercial cow/calf producer selling our stateís best known commodity . . . feeder cattle, UTIA facilitates the Stateís Central Bull Test Program which provides a place for seed stock producers to measure the growth genetics and phenotypic traits inherent within their breeding programs. This is a tool that allows comparisons to their industry contemporaries. Further, this program makes available a source of prospective herd sires each year possessing the genetic potential to enhance our stateís commercial cow/calf herds. This UT Extension-based program, led for many years by Dr. David Kirkpatrick, continues to advance the performance, reputation and marketability of our stateís feeder cattle population.

The Tennessee Beef Heifer Development Program mimics the Central Bull Test Program by providing an opportunity to measure important traits within consignorís beef cattle herds, whether purebred or commercial. The program can further benefit production models by providing an offsite destination for heifer development, making room for increased numbers of mature cows, increasing income potential per acre. As with the bull test program, heifers can be purchased, advancing your herdís quality and numerical growth while limiting the generation interval of raising your own replacements. The Tennessee Beef Heifer Development Program is another UT Extension-based program designed to provide a model enacting proper development and management practices impacting the most costly/critical stage of beef production . . . replacement heifer development.

The Reproductive Training School, another UT Extension-based program, is designed to teach and enhance technical skills, build a knowledge base and introduce lasting impact upon the industryís most economically important trait . . . reproduction. These are only three of many programs that are in place for the purpose of becoming a helpful and interactive part of your cattle operation. Just as that felt hat isnít meant to be set aside for decoration, these programs shouldnít be viewed from afar but can provide value when integrated into your operation.

I didnít place that hat in a safe, clean closet to sit unused. I wore it through the years and gleaned the benefits it provided. I submit that we as cattle producers utilize the many programs our stateís land grant university offers. These programs are a tool designed to help our operations.