Livestock Industry Opinions
May 6, 2016

Harlan Don Ritchie; 1935-2016

Dr. Harlan Ritchie, who is widely considered the best Extension Livestock Specialist to ever serve on a land-grant university faculty, passed away April 27, 2016. He was an industry leader who literally changed the course of the cattle industry.

Ritchie was born Aug. 3, 1935 to Donald and Irma (Johanson) Ritchie in Storm Lake, IA, where he grew up on a general livestock farm. Upon graduation from Albert City High School in 1953, he enrolled in Iowa State University (ISU) where he received his Bachelor of Science in Animal Husbandry. After graduation from ISU in 1957, Ritchie began his career at Michigan State University (MSU) as an assistant instructor and judging team coach while pursuing his Ph.D., which he completed in 1964. He would remain at MSU for his nearly five-decade career, reaching the rank of full Professor of Animal Science in 1971.

By the mid-1960s, MSU’s Drs. Ronald Nelson and Ritchie foresaw the need for the industry to move away from the belt-buckle fad that had dominated cattle selection for decades. Along with his teaching duties, Ritchie was put in charge of the purebred beef cattle unit, where he replaced the existing herd with the still unpopular performance cattle, which were larger framed, leaner, and faster growing. In this effort, he garnered performance cattle from across the country that met these new criteria. This made MSU the hotspot for supplying the industry with leading genetics for years to come.

During this time, Ritchie traveled extensively in Europe identifying and promoting new breeds that could have a positive impact on the North American cattle industry. He also was a popular judge, changing the type of cattle that were winning the shows, often resulting in great controversy from those breeders staked in the status-quo. In all, he officiated national shows for 13 cattle breeds and seven swine breeds.

In 1973, Ritchie accepted an Extension Specialist position at MSU from which he would continue to have a huge impact on the nation’s and international livestock industry. He was a ferocious reader of scientific literature and had a unique ability to pull from even the most basic research that which could be applied to production agriculture. He also had tremendous ability to integrate discreet research projects into practical systems that could then be applied for the benefit of the industry.

In the early 1980s, the frame race fad had taken hold of beef cattle selection with single-trait selection opposite that of the belt-buckle fad. Ritchie spearheaded an industry move toward biological and economic efficiency, which was kicked off with the highly influential 1984 Beef Cattle Efficiency Forum cosponsored by MSU, Colorado State University, and Oklahoma State University. He would continue this message of efficiency and a systems approach to cattle production on programs across the nation and around the world. Just as he had done in the 1960s, Ritchie provided the leadership to put cattle selection on a more sustainable path. This means he anticipated the need and helped change the course of the industry for the second time in his career.

Ritchie believed in the unique value of all breeds and anticipated the move toward composite and hybrid cattle. He developed easy-to-understand tables that summarized various crossbreeding and composite systems, and the retained heterosis each system afforded. To this day, this work continues to be the industry standard and is still widely used.

Ritchie’s advice and input was widely sought out by breed associations and bull studs. He also held leadership positions in the Beef Improvement Federation, American Society of Animal Science, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His research focused on swine and beef cattle improvement, beef cattle efficiency, beef cattle dystocia, enhanced carcass quality, and vertically-coordinated beef production and marketing systems. A prolific writer, he wrote hundreds of scientific, extension and popular press articles.

Over his career, Ritchie received a plethora of awards. In 1994, his portrait was added to the Saddle and Sirloin Gallery, which is considered the highest achievement in the livestock industry. Among his most prized recognitions were the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award, the ISU Animal Science Hall of Fame Award, and the Iowa State Henry A. Wallace Award. He was also honored with service awards from the Beef Improvement Federation and National Pedigree Livestock Council, and he received the Golden Book Award from the American Simmental Association. In 2001, he received the prestigious Livestock Publication Council’s Headliner Award.

During Ritchie’s long career at MSU, he was very fortunate to have spent that time doing what he loved so much: working with people to improve their lives, and working with the national international beef industries to improve production, management and animal welfare. He was a beloved husband, father, colleague, and friend. Perhaps most of all, Ritchie was a kind and gentle man who treated everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their station in the industry. The industry lost a giant, and his memory is cherished by so many.

In 1957 Richie married Lou Ellyn Hale, who preceded him in death in February 1993. In 1996 he married Leah Cox Hoopfer whose career was in extension administration at MSU. He is survived by Leah, his sons Bill (Maureen McGinnis), Don (Ann Marie Dumouchelle), and Christopher (Hae Won Lee); and grandchildren John, Harlan and Wilhelmina. Leah was a devoted caregiver during Ritchie’s struggle with Lewy Body Disease and accompanying dementia, which would claim his life.

A memorial service was held May 6 at University Lutheran Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Ritchie’s honor to the MSU Beef Cattle Education Endowment Fund in Animal Science, #A105506, Michigan State University, University Advancement, 535 Chestnut Road, Rm. 300, East Lansing, MI 48824 or to University Lutheran Church, Prayers and Squares Project, 1020 S. Harrison Road, East Lansing, MI 48825.

Conrad Burns; 1935-2016

Former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT, 1989-2007) died April 28 of natural causes at his home in Billings, MT, according to multiple news sources. He was 81. The death was announced by Montana Republican Party Executive Director Jeff Essman.

Burns, who served in the military as a Marine, was born Jan. 25, 1935, in Gallatin, MO. He studied agriculture at the University of Missouri. He came to Montana as a salesman for Polled Hereford World magazine. In 1968, he became a cattle auctioneer for the Billings Livestock Commission. He later managed the Northern International Livestock Expo.

Dennis Gaub, who monitored county government for the Montanabased Billings Gazette in 1986, recalled Burns’ earlier days in politics in a Facebook post.

“I was covering Yellowstone County government for the Gazette in 1986 when we heard that he was going to run for county commissioner,” Gaub recalled. “I wrote the story. He won. Two years later, he became Montana’s junior U.S. senator. Didn’t see eye to eye with Conrad on everything but he was as personable as anyone I’ve ever had the privilege of writing about and knowing.”

The three-term senator won his seat in 1988 in a close election, but he was reelected in a landslide in 1994, the first Republican U.S. senator to be reelected in Montana.

Burns used his influence on the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee to develop energy policies and manage public lands in the country’s western region. Burns lost reelection in 2006 after he was linked to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted of fraud and served time in prison. Burns was never charged with any crime, however. He later became a lobbyist himself.

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