Lubbock Feeders enjoys impressive employee experience and consulting support
Story and (most) photos by Robert Fears
On the way to Lubbock, Texas from the southeast, Highway 84 begins an upward 45-degree slope on the western edge of the town of Post and continues on for about two miles. At the top of the slope, the land abruptly flattens and there is nothing to obstruct one’s view for miles. Texans describe this experience as “climbing the caprock”. Technically, the climb is onto the Llano Estacado, which was first described by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in a letter to the King of Spain in 1541.
The English translation of Llano Estacado is ‘flat stockade’. If you stand below the eastern edge of the caprock the formations look like huge stakes resembling walls of forts or stockades built by early European-Americans. Because of the rock formations, common names for the Llano Estacado are “Staked Plains” and “Palisaded Plains.” All or part of 33 Texas counties and four New Mexico counties comprise the 32,000 square-mile Llano Estacado.
Cattle, cotton, corn, wheat, sorghum, hay and a variety of vegetables are grown on the Llano Estacado. Due to the locally produced feed grains, a number of feedyards operate in the area, one of which is Lubbock Feeders located near Lubbock, Texas, on the lower half of the Llano Estacado.
“Our location provides us with very favorable feeding conditions during the winter months,” says Kyle Williams, Manager of Lubbock Feeders. “Our temperatures are warmer and snowfall amounts are significantly less than at feedyards farther north. Cattle like consistency and our weather changes are gradual most of the time.”
As Highway 84 enters Lubbock, the serene rural atmosphere quickly changes to city hustle and bustle. Both sides of the highway are lined with warehouses, oilfield supply yards, wholesalers, auto repair centers, and other types of light industry. Lubbock Feeders, located across the tracks at the intersection of Southeast Drive and FM 3020, is made up of steel pipe pens with cattle either standing at a bunk eating or lying down in a spacious, clean area chewing their cud. They look happy and content with no signs of stress.
Lubbock Feeders’ front gate, also made of steel pipe, is a few yards from the railroad tracks. During daylight hours, it is wide open as if beckoning, “Welcome. Come on in”.
“We have a lot of visitors, which gives us opportunities to educate people about beef production,” says Williams. “Many people drive into the yards out of curiosity. All we ask is that they check in at the office so we know they are on the premises. Frequent visitors are school classes and animal science students from Texas Tech University.”
As you drive a gravel road between rows of pens, there is no odor, no noise and no dust. The setting is peaceful enough to make one drowsy.
The road winds past a group of individual horse stables, each connected to a pen. These facilities serve as a place for pen riders to keep as many as two horses. The pen riders use their own horses, but Lubbock Feeders furnishes the stables, feed, health care and shoeing.
Eventually the road leads to a narrow, long building nestled against the receiving pens. At one end is the scale house. Offices are housed in the white building with many doors. Just choose an entry. Someone will meet you with a smile and direct you to the person you want to see.
Calves come from a variety of sources
“Two primary requirements for successfully fattening cattle are health and nutrition,” explains Williams. “Our business is primarily custom feeding, so we receive cattle from a variety of sources. Some of our calves are backgrounded and some are weaned on the truck. They may have come directly off a ranch or they may have been purchased at an auction sale and then immediately shipped to us. We make a big attempt to learn the cattle’s history from clients so we will know their degree of health risk. Healthy thin cattle are preferred because they are the most efficient gainers.”
“Upon arrival, cattle are weighed and sorted accordingly to size and condition,” Williams continues in his soft-spoken voice. “If cattle were vaccinated previously for respiratory disease, then we give them a booster. If they were not vaccinated, we give them the initial shot followed by a booster. All animals are given de-wormer and cattle from coastal areas are treated for liver flukes. We use a pour-on for external pests.”
Lubbock Feeders’ animal health program is the responsibility of Bill Sterling, Cattle Foreman. Sterling supervises the receiving and processing crews, one to two doctors, and five cowboys. The doctors are not veterinarians, but are trained to doctor sick animals. They receive instructions from Sterling and the consulting veterinarian, Dr. Kynan Sturgess. The cowboys are the pen riders who watch for sick animals and when they find one, they move it to one of the five hospital pens that are equipped with a squeeze chute and treatment facilities.
“Every employee is asked to look for sick cattle whenever they drive by the pens,” shares Williams. “Depending upon the position of the animal, a person in a car or pickup may have a better vantage point than the pen rider on a horse. Sick animals tend to move to the back of the pen and hide behind other cattle. This is the instinct of a prey animal that is more vulnerable to predators when sick or hurt.”
Sterling became emotive when discussing the animal health program at Lubbock Feeders. He said, “Cattle health is very important to us and is a top priority. It’s hard to make money on sick cattle; but more importantly, animals in poor health are a welfare issue. We care about cattle on our property and don’t want the animals to experience any suffering.”
“Dr. Sturgess writes treatment protocols for different health situations and we follow them,” Sterling continues. “Our animal health products are kept in a secure vault and only a few employees are given the lock combination. When a drug is removed from the vault, it is scanned for identification. A statement is entered into the inventory records as to why the product is needed and identifies the animals on which it is to be used. The person removing the drug is required to sign the delivery sheet. The actual inventory is frequently compared with the records to ensure that procedures are being followed.”
Lubbock is the hometown of approximately 14 famous musicians, including Buddy Holly and Mac Davis. Dr. Sturgess is impressed with this part of Lubbock’s history and enjoys discussing it with other music lovers. He has a sense of humor and enjoys telling and hearing funny stories. When animal health is a subject of conversation, however, Dr. Sturgess quickly becomes serious. He is passionate about keeping cattle healthy and comfortable.
“I visit Lubbock Feeders and my other feedyard accounts once a month as long as everything is running smoothly,” says Dr. Sturgess. “If a health problem occurs, I’m on site as often and as long as it takes to correct the situation. My responsibilities are to write treatment regimens, ensure that they are implemented correctly, training and retraining personnel, surveillance of the cattle, and diagnosis of any problems that occur.”
To aid in preventing cattle health problems, Lubbock Feeders installed a sprinkler system several years ago with one or two sprinklers in each pen. The system is utilized in spring and summer, which helps the cattle stay cooler reducing heat stress. Sprinkling also reduces dust, which can cause cattle to have respiratory problems.
“When they declare arriving cattle are healthy, then it is my job to ensure they stay that way through good nutrition,” states Jim Simpson, Simpson Nutrition Services, Canyon, Texas. “We feed three different rations – starter, intermediate and finish. The starter ration is primarily roughage with a small amount of grain. Most of the calves were on pasture before they were shipped, so their rumen bacteria systems were designed to digest forage. We have to add grain to their diets gradually to allow time for the rumen bacterial systems to adapt to a different type of feed. Our intermediate ration contains more grain than the starter and the finish ration is mostly grain with a small amount of roughage.”
Simpson currently serves 19 feedyard accounts stretching across the western third of the state. He has directed feedyard nutrition programs for 33 years. Like Dr. Sturgess, Simpson enjoys a good story. He initiated lunch conversation by describing a Randall County hot tub as a metal water trough with an outboard motor attached to one end to provide circulation. Back at the feedyard, he became serious and concentrated as he made his rounds.
Ration consistency, feed intake, average daily gains (ADG) and feed conversions (F/G) are Simpson’s concerns. He stops by three feed bunks, each with a different ration, grabs a handful of feed and spreads it along the front edge of the bunk. He carefully looks at the percentage of roughage to grain and identifies each ingredient to ensure that the ration contains the right feedstuffs in the right amounts. Fineness of the grind is also observed to ensure that ration palatability is maintained.
Simpson looks at condition of the animals. Experience has taught him what an animal should look like after a certain number of days on feed. He studies feed intake by examining Lubbock Feeders’ computerized feeding records. Adjustments are made to feed rations when necessary to maintain target ADG and F/G.
Day-to-day feeding operations are under the direction of Bobby Swift, Assistant Manager of Lubbock Feeders. Swift is also in charge of purchasing.
“Purchasing good quality feedstuffs and grinding and mixing ration ingredients properly have a positive effect on feed palatability and ADG,” explains Swift. “We have a state-of-art feed mill, silo storage for up to 640,000 bushels of corn and enclosed building storage for a maximum of six million pounds of roughage. A 90-day feed supply is in inventory at all times. Feed ingredients are purchased locally when possible.”
“Cattle digestive systems function better when they are fed at the same time every day,” Swift continues. “To ensure consistent feeding times, we use two new feed trucks on a regular basis and a third older, but dependable, truck is put into service when the two regular drivers get behind schedule.”
Experienced employees in addition to good equipment help make an effective feeding program. One of the feed truck drivers has been with Lubbock Feeders for 40 years and the second has completed 20 years. The truck mechanic has 25 to 30 years tenure and Swift has spent a lifetime with the feedyard starting fresh out of school with its previous owner. This long-term experience and commitment is a great asset in feeding cattle the right ration at the designated time.
Find the feed truck
A very important part of Lubbock Feeders’ animal health and nutrition programs are the computer systems where all management practices are recorded and monitored. Feed trucks are equipped with GPS, which allows Swift to sit in his office and find the location of any truck at any time. The program tells him how much feed was put in the bunk at each pen and when it was delivered. Graphs and tables are displayed that allow him to monitor feed intake and ADG. Pen inventories are also kept in the system. If an animal is removed from a pen and taken to one of the hospitals, it is noted in the computer program.
All preventive and therapeutic treatments applied to the cattle are recorded in the computer, which allow Sterling and Dr. Sturgess to monitor their health. Treatment protocols, observations and recommendations are entered into the system by Dr. Sturgess.
The cattle management systems are under the jurisdiction of Amy Gray, who has the title of Cattle Clerk. Gray has established a career with proven expertise in managing feedlot computer software. On any given day, Gray is seen padding bare-footed back and forth through the long office building gathering data for computer entry. She said that she feels more comfortable and relaxed in her bare feet. When the soles of her feet get dirty, they know it is time to clean the floors.
Sarah Atcheson is responsible for customer billing. Using the software, she bills people who own the cattle for feed, health care and any other appropriate charges. Atcheson is another long-term employee with Lubbock Feeders having logged in more than 20 years. She knows and understands the entire operation very well.
“Keeping them well” is a strong commitment of everyone working for Lubbock Feeders. The commitment is supported by state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, experienced long-term employees, computerized monitoring systems and two very qualified consultants. The consultants make regular visits to the feedyard, plus they are on call in the event that any problems arise. It takes teamwork to successfully feed cattle, and in this part of Texas it’s been working for decades.