UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Blair Steele’s father did not want her to work at Penn State’s Beef-Sheep Center during her freshman year at the University.
“He wanted me to get a handle on my academics, college life and being away from home,” said the fourth-year agribusiness management student in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “I knew students who lived and worked in the barns, so I believed it would be a good fit for me, too.”
Despite her father’s reservations, Steele found herself working at the barn that spring semester, and in her second year, she decided to live at the center, which is on the outskirts of the Penn State University Park campus.
The facility’s cattle and sheep — about 400 collectively — serve as an educational and research tool for the study of genetics, breeding, feeding, management, welfare and merchandising of quality livestock. The center also has a classroom for animal science courses, extension programs, campus events, and the annual state 4-H and FFA livestock judging contests.
Steele is no stranger when it comes to on-farm experience — her family’s third-generation family crop farm in Mercer raises Angus and Hereford beef cattle and Border Leicester sheep.
Her work at the center involves caring for the sheep. A typical day starts with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call and feeding from 7-8 a.m. She works until midmorning when she heads to campus for classes. Once classes are over, she returns to the barn to finish chores for the day.
She explained that work at the center varies from season to season, but daily activities include feeding, trimming the sheep’s feet and bedding pens. The beginning of the school year is dedicated to vaccinating the ewes and shearing. Fall lambing starts in October and goes until November, and spring lambing begins in January and ends in March.
Steele doesn't deny that juggling her courses and her responsibilities at the center is hard.
“Living and working at the barns is not for the faint of heart,” she said. “I’ve had to learn to adjust to the constant change and the little alone time I have. I don't have any time by myself unless I go somewhere on campus.”
Despite any challenges, Steele wouldn’t change her decision to be at the center for anything.
“It’s providing me with new opportunities and also is preparing me for a professional career by learning different management styles,” she said. “It’s also neat bringing in my previous knowledge from my family’s hobby farm to the large facility that is right outside my door.”
Wendall Landis, manager of the Beef-Sheep Center, said that Steele has been an influential part of the team.
“Blair not only has grown to take on more of a student leadership role in helping to train and acclimate new student employees, but she also has claimed more responsibility in helping to manage the flock at the center,” he said.
Daniel Kniffen, assistant professor of animal science, recognizes similar leadership growth in Steele.
“She has developed exemplary leadership skills, all the while being sensitive to the needs and development of her classmates,” said Kniffen, who serves as the Block and Bridle Club adviser. “Blair doesn’t need to be in a leadership position to serve others; she is just as comfortable helping others as a peer individual as she is being in charge.”
Steele credits her time at the Beef-Sheep Center for helping her with her career goals. This past summer, she worked as a hay and forage product marketing intern with CNH Industrial in New Holland, using the knowledge and skills she has acquired from her work at the center. She continues to work in CNH Industrial’s co-op program and is exploring full-time opportunities with the company after she graduates in May.
“Looking back, my dad was right about not wanting me to work at the Beef-Sheep Center when I first started at Penn State,” Steele said. “I was able to focus on my academics and handle being at college, which helped me transition to working and living at the center. In the end, I wouldn’t be the same person if it wasn’t for my time there. I am proud to call the center home.”