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Producers donate cattle to SDSU project

Mitchell Livestock auctioneer Lanning Edwards, shown pointing, sells one of nine donated cows Wednesday that will benefit a new cow-calf research and education facility at South Dakota State University. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

When auctioneer Lanning Edwards' gavel came down shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Mitchell Livestock Auction, South Dakota State University had officially sold the first cows in its Send a Cow to College fundraising campaign.

The nine cows raised a total of about $8,200. Program backers hope that generosity will be duplicated at sale barns statewide.

While the donated cows won't be going to college, the money from their sale will be used to fund a new $4.1 million South Dakota State University Cow-Calf Education and Research facility. About half the college's 1950s-vintage facility was destroyed in a March 2012 fire.

"A state-of-the-art facility is needed now more than ever," said SDSU alumnus and state Cattlemen's Association President Cory Eich, who was in Mitchell Wednesday.

"At an April meeting of our organization, we realized that fundraising to build a new facility was going slowly. That's when we decided we needed to get involved and to take the cow by the horns."

The project has received about $2 million from insurance payments. The remainder will hopefully be raised through the Send a Cow to College campaign and other donations.

Eich said the Send a Cow to College goal is to raise $1 million by selling 1,000 cull cows for $1,000. Cull cattle are animals that have reached the end of their useful breeding or milk-producing lives, and are usually sold for slaughter.

"We have about 13,000 cattlemen in South Dakota," said SDSU Extension Animal Specialist Jim Krantz. "We figure if we can get 10 percent to donate to the program, we'll come close to reaching our goal."

Ethan farmer Lewis Bainbridge and his family donated five cows Wednesday. He and wife Charlene, daughter Heidi and sons Matt and Neal are all SDSU graduates.

"We're an SDSU family," said Bainbridge, "and we're thankful for the education. We felt it was the least we could do."

Joe Cassady, who heads up SDSU's Department of Animal Science, was in Mitchell for the kickoff sale.

Even if fire hadn't damaged his school's cow-calf unit, the facility was "extremely dated" and needed replacing, Cassady said. A new unit will duplicate the types of facilities students will encounter when they leave SDSU to seek work in the cattle industry.

More information about the Send a Cow to College program is available at