Education Through Collaboration: The story of beef breeds through history

Ribbon cutting ceremony at the NRHC for the Cattle Breeds exhibit. From left to right: Mark Hartsfield - Hartsfield design, Dr. Ryan Rathmann - Ph.D. Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, Heather Hocker - CH Foundation, Julie Hodges - NRHC Helen DeVitt Jones Endowed Director of Education, Tom Watson - Ranching Heritage Association Board President.
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collaboration combining the arts, sciences and history came together on the Texas Tech University campus to curate a museum exhibit with the goal of educating a wide variety of audiences on the beef cattle industry.

Julie Hodges, the Helen DeVitt Jones director of education at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, wrote a grant to the CH Foundation, which strives to increase human services, cultural and educational opportunities for Texas residents in the South Plains, proposing a public exhibit of the History of Beef Cattle Breeds in collaboration with Ryan Rathmann, Ph.D., John W. and Doris Jones Professorship Holder: Beef Cattle Biology, Livestock Judging.

“I thought, ‘What a cool concept,’” Hodges said. “I don’t know a lot about cattle breeds, but I did a little digging around and thought I’d put a lesson plan together that could be fun. The more I dug, the more I thought, ‘This is a cool story.’”

With ideas in mind Hodges reached out to Rathmann in order to collaborate with an expert in the field.

Hodges said the exhibit evolved into two timelines with text material, and a visual storytelling component that includes life-size cattle from different eras of history beginning in the 1700s through present day.

Rathmann is heavily involved with Texas Tech’s livestock judging team and conducts research in beef cattle nutrition and reproductive physiology. He said that while it is difficult to tell such a detailed history in a certain amount of words, the visual storytelling component allowed them to do so.

“That’s why I like the life-size cattle through the different eras, because you just sit there and you look at the image,” Rathmann said.

As an avid enthusiast of beef cattle breeds, Rathmann took an immediate interest to this educational project. He said he had a goal of sparking interest in a broad audience of people who would potentially walk through this exhibit, with hopes of deepening their understanding of how breeds evolved through the years.

“I judged a lot of cattle shows, but in my own opinion, I think in the past couple decades we have done, as cattle breeders and livestock exhibitors and judges, a really poor job of keeping the identity of each individual breed,” Rathmann said.

Rathmann said the exhibit portrays the strengths of the different breeds and reflects a time when there was a demand for so many different breeds.

Rathmann emphasized on the fact that different breeds evolved due to unique strengths, and how they thrived in different environment, or were demanded in different markets.

Hodges said one of the biggest challenges was designing the exhibit in a way where a second grader could understand the content while remaining interesting to seasoned ranchers.

“I don’t know that we did it 100 percent, perfectly, but we sure did have a lot of fun trying,” Hodges said.

Julie Hodges is the Helen DeVitt Jones Director of Education at the NRHC.

Hodges said, as a rule of thumb, museum designers have roughly 30 seconds to capture a person’s attention and then only one minute to convey the information. They might get five minutes if the audience is really interested. Hodges said she has enjoyed watching seeing the different demographics of people experience the exhibit.

“I really hope that everyone can find something in there to take home with them about the beef cattle industry, and to get a feeling of, ‘Wow, this took a long time to get where we are today,’” Hodges said.

Not only does Hodges want to instill a better understanding of the industry in her audience, but she said she wants them to leave the exhibit with a reason to smile.

“Anybody in the beef cattle industry has a favorite breed, and so it’s kind of like your favorite ice cream flavor,” Rathmann said. “It’s like going through this ice cream exhibit. It excites you.”

Hodges said the exhibit benefited from Rathmann’s expertise in advances in marketing, technology and grading systems that have impacted what the industry currently looks like. Which leaves the audience with the ability to think and question, ‘What is next? What will the cattle of 2040 look like next?’

Dr. Ryan Rathmann and Julie Hodges worked to curate an exhibit at the NRHC that would be both educating and entertaining in a visual way.

With hopes of gaining support from an outside entity in order to continue the exhibit into a part two, Hodges and Rathmann would like to tell the story of the meat packing industry. They are hopeful to take a step in returning confidence to beef consumers through this method of storytelling.

Hodges said this was her first big exhibit to complete on her own. Calling it her “first baby,” she wanted to collaborate with someone on campus with the knowledge to do it.

“I hope it’s the beginning of more,”

Hodges said.