Alumni Profile – 1940s

Nutrition Pioneer

Scientist needed help from his friends to become “genius of the feedlots”

by Coleman Cornelius | Photography: Colorado State University and John Matsushima

John Matsushima benefited from “Rams take care of Rams” decades before Colorado State University adopted the phrase. With that support, he became a foremost scientist in feedlot nutrition and helped cement Colorado as the No. 5 beef-producing state in the nation.

“I had friends, and they took care of me,” said Matsushima, a Japanese American who earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry in 1943 and a master’s degree in animal science in 1945 – despite the bigotry he faced during World War II.

In January, Matsushima marked the five-year anniversary of his honor as 2013 Citizen of the West, just as CSU President Tony Frank received the same high-profile recognition from the National Western Stock Show.

John Matsushima standing near beef carcassAt 97 years old, Matsushima is a Colorado native and professor emeritus in the CSU Department of Animal Sciences. He invented steam-flaked corn, a staple of modern feedlot rations; oversaw research at the sprawling Rigden Farm in east Fort Collins; helped open Japan and other overseas markets to U.S. beef exports; and worked closely with captains of Colorado’s beef industry to develop feeding innovations that yielded improved efficiency, profitability, and carcass quality.

A story about Matsushima, published in The Denver Post in 1967, referred to him as the “genius of the feedlots.”

“I don’t think Colorado would be a top five cattlefeeding state if it weren’t for Johnny’s work,” Daryl Tatum, a well-known colleague said when Matsushima
was honored as Citizen of the West. “Johnny did as much as anybody in teaching and research to elevate the commercial cattle-feeding industry in
Colorado and elsewhere. He was a game-changer.”

Matsushima taught an estimated 10,000 students in his faculty positions at the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, and Colorado State University. He keeps class records in metal filing cabinets in his living room.

Yet his own student life was often overshadowed by an attitude reflected in signs at local grocery stores, reading “Japs Stay Out.” Barred from Fort Collins groceries, Matsushima received weekly food deliveries from classmates in the dark of night. Refused at restaurants during livestock-judging meets, he ate in the car accompanied by teammates. His friends stood by him when he was banned from movie theaters, refused rides, threatened on sidewalks, and denied membership in an academic honors fraternity.

“My friends protected me and motivated me,” Matsushima recently recalled. “I might not have finished my degrees if I hadn’t had my friends to look after me.”

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