Weaber: Purebred Beef Unit is a head start on career in the cattle business

Bob Weaber gets a feeling of satisfaction as he enters the Purebred Beef Unit on the Kansas State University campus.

The building, just three years old, serves as something of a spark for Weaber, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, and the faculty coordinator at the unit.

Here, he has the opportunity to carry out a vigorous research program, while also helping to mold students who are training for careers in the beef cattle industry.

“My research focuses primarily on beef cattle genetics as well as my special interest in new trait development, such as feet and leg structure in cows, male fertility, feed intake and feed efficiency,” Weaber said.

He and his animal science colleagues work with others in the College of Veterinary Medicine on studies related to vaccines and immune responses in cattle. “What we are trying to do is build new selection tools and management methods for improving beef cattle production in the United States,” Weaber said.

In 2017, K-State opened the Purebred Beef Unit on the north side of campus, including a calving and maternity barn, multipurpose and office spaces and an apartment for student workers. Animal holding pens, pasture, processing and feed storage are adjacent to the building.

“Our old facility was built in the late 1950s,” Weaber said. “At the time, it was a state-of-the-art facility, but was built under a seedstock production model that is quite different from what we experience today.”

The new facility features contemporary livestock handling spaces that are designed around a concept called a ‘Bud Box,’ which “gives us the ability to handle animals in a way that is much safer for the animals and the student workers,” he said.

“Plus, the new facility is much more labor-efficient. One or two people can do most of the operations here on a daily basis.”

For students, having a modern facility gives them a head start on a career in the cattle business.

“All of the labor here is provided by undergraduate students,” Weaber said. “The experience they get is directly applicable when they go out into the industry. That aspect really has made our facility representative of what students will experience when they get out into the industry.”

Weaber said K-State faculty working with the Purebred Beef Unit are studying such sustainability issues as methane and carbon dioxide emissions from beef cattle grazing on a range. They’re also looking at vaccination strategies for newborn calves. “Our unit is used for much more than teaching,” he said. “It’s got a broad industry impact.”

Each March, students in a seedstock marketing class help conduct the university’s Legacy Sale, with the proceeds going to support the operations of the Purebred Beef Unit. Animals from the unit are used for a wide range of teaching activities, including animal reproduction labs and evaluation courses.

“One of the most rewarding things for me is working not only with current students, but also with many of our alumni,” Weaber said. “We think about the K-State family as largely associated with athletics, but that same philosophy and feeling exists here in our animal science department. It’s great to have those folks come back, support the sale and donate to the unit to help make our resources better for students.”