The N.C. State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship helps dozens of youth chase after a college education every year. Recipients all share the commonality of showing livestock at the N.C. State Fair, but their goals are different. Some pursue degrees in nursing while others focus on animal science. Some recipients attend community college and others travel across the country to get their degree. Some stop at a bachelors while others continue on to grad school. And, this scholarship covers all the types. While most of our scholarship recipients are undergrads, we do have some graduate students.
Meet Jordan Cox O’Neill. She’s a past N.C. State Fair livestock showman, a cattle enthusiast, and she’s pursuing a Ph.D. in Animal Science focused on beef nutrition and management at N.C. State University. She is also a recipient of the N.C. State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship.
Jordan has been on a tour of the Midwest since graduating high school, receiving a B.S. degree in Animal Science at Kansas State University and earning her M.S. degree in Animal Science focused in ruminant nutrition at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With encouragement from Dr. Todd See at NCSU, she made the decision to return to her home state of North Carolina for her Ph.D.
The decision was not made lightly, however. Jordan had fallen in love with the landscape and ranching community of the Midwest. She was also newly married. She and her husband, Dustin, would make the decision together. Ultimately, the opportunities NCSU provided in beef nutrition and teaching, brought Jordan back to North Carolina.
“It has turned out to be a phenomenal decision, because of teaching, research, beef industry, and family reasons,” said Jordan about the decision to attend NCSU and move back home.
One of the biggest selling points to choosing the program at NCSU was the teaching opportunities she would have. Jordan has already been able to gain an immense amount of teaching experience at NCSU. In addition to teaching, she is also working on research for her dissertation. Her dissertation pertains to integrating crop-livestock systems. She is investigating ways to plant annual cover crops following corn harvest and capitalize on those forage resources by grazing them with beef cattle for improved health, gain, and economic value; as well as, provide living forage cover for the soil to improve the health of our soil ecosystems and ultimately improved subsequent crop yields. Her research has put pressure on her, but it has also allowed Jordan to develop a project that she is truly passionate about. Not only is she passionate about it, but it has allowed she and her husband to chase after a dream—raising cattle.
When she couldn’t find individuals who had crop land and cattle willing to participate, Jordan and her husband decided to get in the animal agriculture business—something they had always dreamed of.
“Last fall we established O’Neill Cattle Company LLC., installed a lot of fence and water on crop land, and bought and grazed stocker steers for my research project. We are excited to see what the future has in store for us and thank God for every opportunity and experience he has provided us!” said Jordan about their decision to raise cattle.
Jordan also said that coming back to the state where she grew up allowed her to reconnect with producers who she had already fostered relationships with to grow new ideas and business plans. Combining those connections with the experiences gained in the Midwest from the past seven years, has given Jordan a strong foundation.
There’s no doubt grad school is challenging, so having a strong foundation and connections has helped Jordan tremendously. Grad school isn’t for everyone. It is demanding and can also be costly. Jordan says that grad school, in comparison to undergrad, is more like a job, but there are still the expectations to actively learn and attend classes.
“Grad school is good in the way that it makes you begin to apply the things you learned in undergrad, that way you actually start to understand it. It also gives you the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different topics as well as connect with phenomenal people in agriculture all over the World,” Jordan shared.
While grad school can help apply things learned in previous studies, it can also cause students to become disconnected with the industry if not careful. Time in the classroom is equally important to time in the pastures and with producers.
“I do not want my involvement in academia to completely be excluded from the actual beef industry itself and its changing trends and evolved knowledge,” Jordan notes. “I plan to prevent this by individually working with cattle producers on their management and nutrition programs during the summers and in my down time from school.”
Jordan’s future goals have been an encouragement to attend graduate school and earn her Ph.D. Her three main passions in life are the beef cattle industry, family, and teaching and interacting with people. She hopes to combine those passions through teaching and advising undergraduates at an accredited university in the areas of animal science, animal nutrition, and beef cattle management in the future.
“I want to properly inform students taking animal science courses about what is actually involved in animal agriculture rather than the distorted and manipulated stories they are exposed to in media and biased marketing. I want to inspire students to also take an active role in the industry that they feel called to be a part of,” said Jordan.
Jordan also plans to continue and develop O’Neill Cattle Company LLC into a beef cow/calf and stocker program with her husband. They hope to be able to raise the next generation of ranchers there. Agriculture tends to be a family affair, and Jordan appreciates that it allows her to combine all her passions—beef industry, family, and teaching into one area.
The decision to move back to North Carolina has had many benefits beyond that of cattle and academics. It has also allowed her to be closer to family, something that became important during last year’s Hurricane Florence. Jordan’s family’s farm was hit hard by Florence. As a family, they had 60 head of cattle, 600 sows, and crops. They lost most of their cattle, some pigs and almost all their crops. It was devastating with 3-8 feet of flood waters covering their farm located near Trenton. Like many farm families last year, they came together to save what they could. Despite preparing in every way possible, farmers are sometimes no match for nature. As for the Cox and O’Neill families, they are recovering, and Jordan is thankful she was able to be there for her family.
“If I had decided to stay in the Midwest or go somewhere else for my Ph.D., I never would have been there to support and help my family like Dustin and I were able to do. If it wasn’t for having my entire family (Robert, Gina, Sydney, Dustin, and myself) as well as many other friends there to help us, we probably wouldn’t be recovering as well as we are today,” said Jordan.
Farming, livestock and agriculture have always been a family affair for Jordan and her folks. Her dad is a fifth or sixth generation farmer. Jordan started showing livestock at the NC State Fair when she was just three years old. She showed until she was 21, only missing two years during her time at K-State. If you are keeping track, that’s 16 State Fairs for Jordan. She’s attended even more.
Jordan has fond memories of showing at the NC State Fair, spending time with friends and family. She recalls sitting out by the cattle tie outs talking, playing, and sliding down the hill (before it was razed) on cardboard sleds. She also learned many lessons at the NC State Fair that have stuck with her. She tells it best:
I will never forget a life lesson I learned when I was roughly 13 years old about paying attention to details and responsibility from my cousin and livestock showing mentor, Matthew Cox. I was responsible for watching the cattle in the beds in the Jim Graham on show day. Either due to spending too much time with friends, sleeping, or just not paying attention, I failed to realize that my blue roan heifer had laid down in crap. Definitely not a good combination. So only 45 minutes to an hour leading up to show time, my cousin Matthew shows up to help get her showring ready. When we commenced to getting her up and into the chute, that’s when we noticed the yellowish, brown/green spot on her hip. That caused us to have to wash her, be rushed, and stressed leading up to show time. I also got a constructive criticism lecture from Matthew that still sticks with me to this day. I am forever thankful to all the people that have taught and molded me into the person I am today.
Matthew Cox can still be found at the N.C. State Fair with his own kids showing livestock, but that’s a story for another day. Just realize that showing livestock, especially at the State Fair, is a family affair.
While Jordan has aged out of showing livestock, the lessons learned and memories made are still going. The NC State Fair still impacts her. As a recipient of the N.C. State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship, the Fair is helping her to fulfill her passions and goal of earning a Ph.D. The scholarship is helping to pay for her student and parking fees, allowing Jordan and her husband to focus on paying bills, buying gas and food, and invest in the beef cattle industry.
“Without the scholarship support it would be more difficult and definitely more discouraging to get directly involved into agriculture production, which is a shame because we need more youth to be a part of the future of agriculture,” said Jordan.
The N.C. State Fair impacts youth long after they age out. The Fair and those who help sponsor this scholarship are helping the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Jordan is one such example.