Grazing through college

Abbie Uhlenkott learned to drive a tractor when she was in kindergarten.

Raised in Cottonwood, Idaho, Uhlenkott said she grew up around the farm surrounded by animals, which she fell in love with at a young age — inciting her initial desire to enter veterinary sciences.

“Automatically, if you’re a little kid that loves animals I guess you want to be (a veterinarian),” Uhlenkott said.

From one small town to another, Uhlenkott wears the small-town farm on her sleeve. The third-year student immerses herself in the College of Animal and Life Sciences, between classes and meetings. Uhlenkott, sitting in a room surrounding by trophies adorned with cattle on the third floor of the college building, sits comfortably in plaid button-up and flare jeans decked out in pocket rhinestones.

The people in the small community of Cottonwood, her home town, shaped Uhlenkott, she said, giving her the drive and desire to understand and know the people around her.

“When you’re in a small community, you get to know everybody there — you get to know why they are the way they are. You get to see how hard they work at whatever they do,” she said. “I still put a lot of emphasis on understanding what drives people to doing, and just being able to build those strong connections because it is not just about knowing somebody and being able to capitalize off that, it is about how you can help that.”

After looking at a number of other colleges and universities, Uhlenkott said she chose the University of Idaho following a campus tour and feeling a sense of home, just 90 miles north of Cottonwood.

After spending some time in the UI Animal Veterinary Science program, Uhlenkott said she later realized there was more room for growth in a variety of animal agriculture programs.

“It is a small community, which is what I am from, so it was comfortable and I just realized there were a lot of opportunities within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that aren’t necessarily presented or put out there, and there is a lot more than just face value,” she said.

Now a third-year student, Uhlenkott spends her time immersing herself within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, double majoring in animal and veterinary science business and agriculture economics with a minor in accounting. She also serves as the treasurer for the Student Idaho Cattle Association.

The Student Idaho Cattle Association is a student-run organization working to inform its members and the public on issues facing the beef and cattle industry. It is a branch of the Idaho Cattle Association.

Uhlenkott has been a member of the association since her freshman year. But she knew she would be involved before stepping foot on UI’s campus. Uhlenkott said her cousin, who was a member while at UI, encouraged her to join.

More people are adopting the vegetarian and veganism lifestyle. Uhlenkott said the fuel that moves many to pursue the lifestyle is based on a wide-spread misconception — all cattle are mistreated and the industry at-large is worse off because of it.

“Animal cruelty is a huge one (misconception),” Uhlenkott said. “There are laws around how animals are treated. It doesn’t pay to not treat an animal well. Literally people’s lives are based on keeping this animal well, healthy, keeping them not stressed, keeping them safe.”

Uhlenkott said the public is often disconnected from the work of people within the animal agricultural industry — a driving force for what she calls misconceptions surrounding the industry — and the association hopes to change the perception and understanding of the industry, on the UI campus and off.

Association advisor Phil Bass said the 40-plus member group is leading the charge on changing the misconceptions around the industry.

“What this group is really, this group has some momentum internally, to go out and be advocates for animal agriculture and go out and bridge that gap,” Bass said. “Trying to tell the story that we, as an agricultural community, have failed to do in the past.”

Uhlenkott has spent her years committed to the department and the work she and her peers continue to do every day. Not only has the cattle association made her a better student,

Uhlenkott said it has shaped her into the person has become.

“I attribute a lot of my success in college to this,” Uhlenkott said. “I’ve learned to sit down and have productive conversations, I’ve learned to make and build relationships, and I think that is a lot of it. Within the industry I’ve learned so much more than I could even describe. There is so much information out there, you just have to be willing to go and find it.”

Meredith Spelbring can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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