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Individual management improves quality

By Jennifer Bremer

A feedlot where every animal is treated equally and individually to reach its highest quality potential is what Tom Fanning wants at Buffalo Feeders.

Buffalo Feeders, LLC, a 30,000-head custom feed yard, is located just south of the Kansas line in northwest Oklahoma.

"One of the unique things we offer at Buffalo Feeders is individual animal identification and management," said Fanning, who is a partner and general manager of the feedlot. "This can mean as many as 80,000 cattle are individually cared for each year."

Changes through time

Buffalo Feeders has been in existence for nearly 50 years and is part of the Pratt Feeders, LLC group, based in Pratt, Kan. Buffalo Feeders has continually upgraded and made changes to help the customer be more profitable.

"We are very customer focused. We have customers who deliver as few as five head per year, to those who send us three loads each year. But no matter where the cattle come from-from any of our hundreds of customers all across the country-we want them to be happy," said Fanning.

A 10-year veteran to the position, Fanning has been pleased with the move in the past three years to individual animal management. He also knows the 40-member crew at Buffalo Feeders are focused on individuality and take their jobs seriously-wanting the customer to be happy with their cattle's end results.

"Our main goal is to get the most value for each individual animal no matter what area that animal falls into," he said. "We want to optimize the end point and economic return for each animal."

Individual management

The individual animal management begins when the cattle are delivered to the feed yard. Each animal is weighed at entry and given an electronic identification tag, which is used to identify the animal when new data is taken and recorded in the computer.

Some animals also enter the feedlot with customer EID tags, which are recorded at entry time as well. By keeping all the proper individual records, Fanning said their customer can then be provided with information on their animals and management improvements can be made at the cow-calf operation.

They rely heavily on technology and information from the producers and want to give them back the information they want as well. Many producers retain ownership in their animals to track individual birth, weaning and yearling weights. The database links ranch tags to yard tags to help producers make herd decisions based on feeding and carcass results.

Through this data exchange, producers can get as much or as little data back as they wish. Buffalo Feeders will provide feed efficiency information as well as carcass information on each individual animal.

The EID tag reader on each scale, and a scale under each chute, records the animal's weight each time it passes through, and that recording is entered into the database. This may also include when an animal passes through a chute if it requires treatment for illness.

"Our individual management system is wrapped around the health system we use," explained Fanning.

Cattle are re-evaluated often and are sorted for uniformity in order to capture more value. This puts cattle in groups with others at the same target feed-intake levels, and they can push those cattle to increase their intake and meet their end target.

"To me, sorting is the best thing we can do for a customer," Fanning said. "The cattle that are uniform are easier to sell because they go through the packing plant easier."

Feed efficiency is only one part of the equation for these cattle. At re-implanting time, cattle are ultrasound scanned to monitor carcass quality progress. That information is used in sorting as well, by putting cattle in groups expected to finish at the same quality level, in order to optimize uniformity.

Changes in cattle

Through the years the quality of the cattle being fed at Buffalo Feeders has continued to improve. Customers have seen that the predominantly black-hided cattle are selling better because they are producing high-quality meat.

"We continue to see more high-quality Angus-based cattle, which is even dramatically different than five years ago. The cow-calf producer sees that there are more marketing programs available for those type of cattle, so they are changing their herds to earn more in the end," said Fanning.

With more cattle being marketed through high- quality beef programs, Buffalo Feeders recently received the award of 2009 Large Feedlot of the Year from Certified Angus Beef.

Most cattle are processed at the nearest packing plants in Dodge City, Kan., but some are sent to other plants to optimize value if they are being fed for a certain program.

Good risk management on the side of feed inputs and cattle marketing is of great importance to Buffalo Feeders and the producers they are feeding cattle for.

"It's all about managing details, not only on your production, but on your marketing, too," Fanning said. "From risk management, to where you're selling your cattle, or what programs they're selling into."

Fanning constantly puts dollars and cents to his feeding practices, with the goal of maintaining healthy, efficient, high-gaining cattle.

With the changes in cattle, constant changes in technology are also needed. The very recent addition of a GPS system on all the feed trucks will allow improved efficiency in each lot.

"We want to manage the details every day-the small things, down to the individual animal, whether that's through animal health or feed delivery or through visiting with customers. If you manage the pennies, the dollars take care of themselves," said Fanning.

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by e-mail at jbremer@hpj.com.

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