Great Idea: From the ranch to the boardroom, the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Program opens doors for careers in the beef industry

It’s a multi-billion dollar business sector in Canada. With 60,000 farms and feedlots nationwide, the beef cattle industry is a major player in the Canadian economy, contributing $18 billion in GDP each year. Here’s the problem: cattle industry leaders are aging and they need to be replaced. So what has the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) done? They’ve put together a youth leadership/mentorship program designed to get young people involved in the cattle trade.

While beef consumption has come under a lot of scrutiny lately (with some reports advising people to stop eating meat because of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cattle raising), it appears that the beef industry is not going away anytime soon. The CCA challenges climate change claims that beef consumption has an abnormally high environmental impact due to the industry’s focus on sustainability – which combines ecosystem considerations with healthy livestock and quality beef from the birth of a calf to the delivery of meat to the market. Canada is a world leader in beef exports and Canadian beef consumption is quite hearty, with every man, woman and child in the nation purchasing an average of 18 kilograms of meat per year. The beef cattle industry is a no nonsense, economic powerhouse in Canada, which is why the CCA is trying to engage youth in keeping the momentum generated by the industry over the years going.

So this is what inspired the establishment of the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) program. Founded in 2010, the CYL is designed to provide aspiring young beef industry entrepreneurs with the mentorship and resources they require to experience success in the trade. This includes partnerships with industry leaders in the area of interest that candidates hope to pursue. The program gives young people access to people who will teach them about the cattle trade as well as giving them opportunities to attend seminars, conferences and conventions. To facilitate this goal successful CYL candidates get a $2,000 grant to cover travel and registration expenses associated with industry specific events.

The CYL opens its online registration portal early each year to young people between the ages of 18 and 35. About 50 people apply for the program annually, with CYL committee members narrowing the field to 24 semi-final candidates by the spring. These 24 aspiring beef industry leaders are invited to the Canadian Beef Industry Conference where they participate in roundtable discussions and other activities. At the end of the conference, the field is reduced to the 16 candidates who will represent the CYL leaders for that year. To date, over 100 people have participated in and graduated from the CYL program.

According to a recent article in Canadian Cattlemen (Feb. 2020), CYL graduates are making their mark in a variety of ways. From work on industry leading farms to representation on administrative bodies, the success of the CYL program leaves little room for doubt. Canadian Cattlemen cites these examples:

  • 2014 graduates Stacey Domolewski has risen to the role of science and innovation co-ordinator for the Beef Cattle Research Council while her colleague Ellen Crane is an extension co-ordinator for the organization.
  • Another graduate of the class of 2014, Jaclyn Horenberg, has earned a job with the Beef Farmers of Ontario as has Bethany Storey (CYL ,2015).
  • 2018 graduate Amy Higgins has found a role with the Maritime Beef Council.

So how does the program work? Successful candidates are paired with a mentor in their area of interest. The mentor and mentee work out an action plan with achievable and measurable goals. These goals are complemented by excursions to conferences and seminars that help the mentee achieve their objective – namely the launching of a career in the beef industry. In 2018, Calgary’s Ashley Gaudet was paired with Rob and Gail Hamilton. The Hamilton’s run a purebred black angus operation in northwest Calgary while Gaudet is a certified Veterinary Technician out of Airdrie, Alberta. The Hamilton’s were able to help Gaudet develop her own herd and build her own brand. Meanwhile Gaudet was able to help the Hamilton’s show a string of bulls at the Denver Stock Show – a daunting task involving multiple layers of organization and coordination.  According to Gaudet, the CYL program had a profound impact on her establishing a footing in the cattle trade. She says, “[Y]ou learn so much more from everyone you meet through the program on top of what you are already gaining from your mentor.”

Another CYL graduate, Jessica Giles, took a unique path to gaining a foot up in the beef industry. Paired with her mentor Dianne Finstad in 2018, Giles worked with Finstad to further develop her public relations skills. This complimented the skills Giles was already working on as an agriculture journalist. Finstad was well equipped to help Giles move toward her objective. A veteran agriculture and rodeo reporter, Finstad exposed Giles to a wide network of beef industry leaders which eventually helped the CYL candidate expand her own agriculture journalism career prospects. Eventually Giles was hired by the CCA as their youth leadership co-ordinator whose primary responsibility is to help CYL applicants put their best foot forward and help finalists make the most of the opportunities the program has to offer.

A deep dive into the CYL initiative demonstrates that the program is open-ended. From ranchers to organizers to journalists, the CYL offers a wide-range of opportunities for young people hoping to establish a career in the beef industry.

By Sean Dolan

For more information, go to:
Cattlemen’s Young Leaders at

For more information on the beef industry, go to:
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association at