Randall County Feedyard Tends To The Cattle And The Consumer
By: Gilda V. Bryant
The Texas Panhandle has been devoted to agriculture since 1888. Historic ranches such as the XIT and Charles Goodnight’s JA Ranch still run cattle, and the region also grows wheat, corn and grain sorghum, much of it used to feed livestock. The Panhandle is chockfull of beef cattle and feedyards, and all facets of the beef industry are vital to the area’s economy. Here, approximately six million cattle easily outnumber people, and provide 30 percent of the nation’s beef, according to the TexasCattle Feeders Association.
Friona Industries, L.P., began as a small feedlot in 1962 and is now a modern commercial cattle feeding outfit with four facilities. These feedyards have a total capacity of 290,000 head and are located in Canyon, Littlefield, Friona and Tulia, Texas. One of Friona Industries’ operations, Randall County Feedyard, is located outside of Canyon.
This site runs an average of 87,000 head per year according to Jerrid Vincent, Manager. The facility receives cattle from approximately 25 states, most arriving from the southeastern United States. Generally, calves arrive weighing from 550 to 800 pounds and they finish out between 1,300 and 1,375 pounds.
Vincent reports that many of his animals have been backgrounded before they arrive. In other words, they’ve had their vaccinations and know how to hit the bunk for rations such as corn, Sweet Bran® and wet distiller’s grain. Incoming calves have access to a salt block upon arrival for the first 20 to 30 days. “When the cattle come in, most of them hit the bunk and are able to consume the right mineral levels,” Vincent explains. “At times we have individuals that may not be that aggressive. By throwing the salt blocks out there, we just help their chances of getting their nutritional requirements.”
Besides salt, minerals are an important part of the animals’ diet. This company’s beef nutritionist recommends a well-balanced mineral supplement in pellet form from a major feed company. It is mixed in the ration based on consumption rates.
“One of the reasons we went with this supplement is because we do get cattle from several different states,” Vincent relates. “They would have different mineral needs, but the mineral level in the pellets should help in all deficiencies if there are any.”
The lengthy drought smacked the Texas Panhandle hard, just as it has in many areas of the nation. “We started using this mineral before the drought,” explains Vincent. “It hasn’t changed since. Right now, it fits our program.” Vincent offers this advice about mineral supplementation, “Other individuals are going to have to figure out what best fits their operations. Sometimes, it’s putting their mineral in liquid, sometimes it’s in the pellet form.
Most feedyards have a consulting nutritionist to make sure the mineral supplement is appropriate for the operation. I would tell feedlot owners and operators to contact their suppliers, producers or stocker guys that send them cattle to make sure they have an understanding of what the mineral requirement would be for their operations.”
THE AUDIT IS THE TEST – PASS OR FAIL
Randall County Feedyard managers not only make sure animals receive the appropriate rations and mineral supplementation that increase weight gain and maintain health, but they are sold on the Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA).
What is the BQA and why is it important? The BQA is a set of standards and guidelines that brings the beef industry together, according to Vincent.
This program gives those involved in the cattle business, including the cow-calf or stocker producer, feedyard operator, packer, trucker, sale barn crew, veterinarian, or supplier a better understanding of the processes in the beef industry.
“It’s an opportunity to expand our knowledge as supervisors,” says Vincent. “Our employees also understand why they’re here and how we need to do things in a manner to be the most productive.” Dell Volmer, Randall County Feedyard General Manager adds, “Consumers want more information.
They want to know that we’re treating cattle safely and humanely and the food is going to be safe. That’s one of the big reasons why BQA came out… we’ve got to keep proving that we’re doing the right things out here and that we’re doing what’s best for society.” Once a producer or facility is BQA certified, yearly training consists of a one day seminar, taken either online or in a class with others.
Vincent says they take classes presented by the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), which includes practical, hands-on training in timely topics, such as cattle handling or feeding. Sue Doxon, Office Manager for Randall County Feedyard, reports that they send employees to a variety of classes, and they return armed with updated skills and knowledge to train the others. Doxon says this facility was one of the first in the area to earn the BQA certification, back in March 2000.
She explains, “We train every employee so everyone is signed off, not just management. All employees have gone through a training process. Everybody on the yard knows the policies and procedures.” Folks who take the classes don’t have to pass a test. “The audit is the test,” explains Doxon. “It’s pass or fail.” The TCFA audits member facilities from one to several times a year.
Auditors look at various procedures including minimal hot shot use, cleanliness of water tanks, cattle feeding procedures and moving animals. For example, this facility has several hospitals located throughout the yard, which reduces stress in sick calves because they aren’t walking long distances. Plus, water tanks are cleaned weekly during summer months.