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Darnall Feedyard wins CAB Quality Focus Award

By Miranda Reiman

Call the CIA. There's a case to crack. More than 5,000 cattle from a western Nebraska feedlot surpassed 40 percent Certified Angus Beef brand and Prime from June 2011 through the end of May 2012.

So how did the team at Darnall Feedlot near Harrisburg, Neb., do it? They have many clues to share, and one easy solution.

"If you want to know our secret, feed cattle with us," says Lane Darnall, a fourth-generation cattleman who runs the 24,000-head yard with his father Gary.

With tight supplies, the Darnalls would like to employ new tactics for cattle recruitment, but promoting mystery isn't really one of them. Lane says information sharing is the key to every segment's success.

Evidence of the cooperative boon: Darnall Feedlot won the brand's Quality Focus Award for partner yards with more than 15,000-head capacity for the second time in three years, besting their 2010 mark of 33.3 percent CAB and Prime, which was measured on half as many cattle.

Gary and wife Emilie accepted the award at the CAB annual conference, Sept. 19 to 21 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Before cattle enter the feedyard, there's a two-way vetting process.

"We'll have a phone conversation and initiate the thought process, where we'll start forecasting," Lane says. The prepared breakevens will showcase expected quality, efficiency and markets.

Dee Johnson runs 1,500 cows near Edgerton, Wyo., and has retained ownership of both calves and yearlings with the Darnalls for the past five years.

"They've never been ones to paint a picture that is rosier than it should be," he says. "They've always said, 'Here is what can happen and here is what you need to know and understand.'"

Then, the veterinarians and consulting nutritionists are brought into the intelligence loop.

"Probably the most important thing the rancher can do prior to the cattle getting here is have a good vaccination program," Gary says. "That's critical--having an immune system set so they can handle the changes of environment and feed."

They'll take in bawling calves if they know what they're getting into ahead of time.

"Yearlings aren't nearly as intensive as a weaned calf and weaned calves aren't as intensive as bawling calves," Lane says. "Even yearlings from ranch A and ranch B aren't the same. They start on feed different. They have seen different amounts of every bunch of cattle is individual."

Whether or not a producer is going to feed with the Darnalls, the two want them informed. They've hosted Nebraska's Integrated Resource Management Feedout for the last 15 years, allowing ranchers to enter as few as five head for full individual carcass and performance data.

"We hope through the program that they get comfortable enough to evaluate breakevens," says Lane. "It's not so much that they come here, but that they have the knowledge to go out and look at their options."

Those pens are handled the same as any other at the yard, but that doesn't mean the workload is equal. Thirty-five consignors in one pen are the same as 35 additional customers in terms of billing and accounting, not to mention receiving day and coordination of the wrap-up event. Of course the feeders have help, with office manager Ruth Ammon taking the lead in record-keeping.

"We are no better in managing the feedlot and ranch than the people we have working for us...our employees are part of our family," Gary says.

That atmosphere has Johnson hooked.

"I've fed at other yards where you're just a number. With (Darnall) you get the human touch along with a reality check," he says.

Like many, Johnson talks over herd management, genetic selection and weaning with the Darnalls.

"Our customers are constantly evaluating how they can improve," Lane says.

Along with farming activities, the family still operates a cowherd which gives the men a good foundation for discussing strategies with customers.

"There is a pride within us ranchers that we want to produce better quality, and we have the tools to do it easier today than we did in the past," Gary says.

Expected progeny differences certainly, but beyond that, "(Genomics is) probably the most exciting thing to happen in the cattle business in my lifetime," he says. "Being able to know what the genetics are by DNA and being able to use that to engineer our herds so when we bring cattle into the feedlot they're more predictable."

Regardless of tools, Gary says the underlying secret to their success comes down to one thing: "We are fortunate to feed cattle for people that have the good genetics, the quality cattle that perform."

Case closed.

Date: 12/03/2012


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