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Livestock Weekly - November 2001

Garden City Feedyard Showcases FBO Expansion; Shipments Grow

By Colleen Schreiber

GARDEN CITY, Kan. - It was just two years ago that Garden City Feed Yard ran 60 head of cattle on cornstalks on a 320-acre field adjacent to the existing feedyard. Today that same field is set to become home to 55,000 head of cattle.

It's part of a planned expansion, a little over a year in the making, whereby the 30,000-head commercial feedyard will nearly triple its carrying capacity. The Garden City yard is one of five participating feedlots which will supply cattle to Future Beef Operation's first "product center" located in Arkansas City, Kansas.

The feedyard is essentially a partner with Future Beef Operations LLC, a privately held, fully integrated, value-based, customer-oriented company. FBO's plan is to fully integrate each traditional segment of the beef value chain into one system with the same customer - the consumer. The players include seedstock and cow-calf producers, stocker operators and feedlots, all of whom supply product to FBO's product center.

Garden City Feed Yard, part of the AzTx Cattle Company operation, is owned and operated by the Bob Josserand family of Hereford, Texas. The family also owns an additional three feedyards in the Texas Panhandle, making them one of the largest independent cattle feeders in the nation. Bob is chairman of the board. Son, John, president of AzTx Cattle Co., will oversee the new venture.

"I see this as an opportunity for a younger man like myself to be involved in the cattle business for many years to come," John Josserand told those attending the recent opening of the new facility.

They chose this particular alliance, he said, because FBO already had a customer identified. That customer is Safeway. All other alliances, he insisted, still have a packer as their primary customer.

While touring the new facilities, those attending the opening had a chance to hear from Larry Bilberry, the yard's manager. The Josserand family has owned the feedyard since 1994, and Bilberry has been their manager since day one.

"It's been fun to combine the old with the new," Bilberry told the group. "We can look out this window and see guys on horseback, guys on four-wheelers, folks on laptops, people carrying mobile phones. All this meshed together has made for an awfully interesting industry. These kinds of changes are necessary if this industry is going to survive."

Garden City will operate essentially as two separate yards. The commodity side with its 30,000-head capacity will continue business as usual. There are no plans at this time to move completely away from custom cattle feeding nor marketing of these cattle as it is done today.

The new addition will eventually house 55,000 cattle, all destined for the plant in Arkansas City. Currently some 72,000 head are on feed - 30,000 commodity cattle, the balance FBO cattle. Receiving of FBO cattle began about 100 days ago, and Bilberry expects to be up to full capacity by Christmas if not before.

FBO's target is a YG 1 or 2 animal that will grade mid to high Select. The animal that hits that target the best, the manager said, is a Continental cross.

"FBO is after red meat production. Safeway wants safe and consistent tonnage, and we at Garden City want a four to five percent improvement in feed and gain efficiency," he pointed out.

The program doesn't want straight English cattle and right now they're not accepting Mexican cattle either, primarily because of hoof and mouth disease. They're also trying to stay away from salebarn cattle, though in the start-up they've had to utilize some "put-together" cattle. In the future they're shooting for single-source yearling type cattle. Single sourcing cattle, Bilberry noted, generally cuts down on sickness.

FBO has its own procurement team and they've been sourcing cattle all over the U.S., but Bilberry said he hopes in the future that Garden City will be able to do a portion of its own procurement of FBO cattle. Garden City owns the FBO calves through the feedlot phase, but once they're shipped to Arkansas City, FBO takes ownership.

All of FBO's feedyard partners feed high levels of Vitamin E and high levels of Vitamin D at finishing. Vitamin E helps extend shelf life and Vitamin D is said to enhance tenderness and flavor.

The new facility is high-tech and state of the art, and the manager has initiated several new management practices. One is what's called "zone feeding", whereby all the cattle in one section or zone are fed at a certain time. There are three zones altogether. The "early morning" yard is fed beginning about 6:30 a.m. The second zone is fed about 8:30 a.m. and the third zone about 10:30 a.m. Cattle are fed three times a day.

"Zone feeding is like having three different yards," Bilberry explained. "The toughest thing about this way of feeding is getting the cattle in zone three acclimated to not being fed until 10:30 in the morning. Surprisingly, it hasn't changed consumption like I thought it would."

They only implemented zone feeding about two weeks ago, and already it's saving them about three hours a day or 36 man-hours.

"Right now we're getting 75,000 cattle fed in about 13.5 hours. And for a yard that was 30,000 head about 100 days ago, I'm pretty pleased," Bilberry told listeners.

Bunk aprons are 15 feet wide, and the bunk apron is connected to the water apron. The apron is wider than the norm because weather can be a problem, and having a wider apron enables the cattle to get up out of the mud during inclement weather.

The new facilities are also equipped with a sectional sprinkler system, mostly for dust control. The automated system, capable of pumping 750 gallons per minute, is set up on a 10-minute rotation cycle. The system can also be programmed to isolate a particular section or even a particular pen.

There are two hospitals on the new yard; both are smaller than the norm. The manager said he hopes the new management process will help cut down on morbidity. They will also be receiving mostly yearling cattle rather than ranch calves for the FBO program, and that in itself should cut back the number of cattle that go to the hospital.

The feedyard invested as well in another new piece of technology called an Animal Ambulance. The feedyard staff refers to it as a "go-home wagon." It's a specially built multi-sectional truck used to haul recovered cattle from the sick pen back to their respective pens. The truck pulls right up to the bunk line, a ramp extends over the bunk into the pen, and the calf walks off the truck into the pen. It not only saves the cowboys time, but it removes any unnecessary stress to the recovering calf.

The new facility has a four-sectional loading system, with two lines for receiving and two lines for shipping.

"When we get up and running full speed, we should be receiving about 1000 head of cattle per day seven days a week and also shipping out about 1000 head per day seven days a week."

Unlike the receiving and shipping facilities in traditional feedyards, there are no scales here. That's because the cattle going to FBO will be weighed individually.

The new processing facility is also equipped with state of the art equipment. They worked with Temple Grandin to design a system that keeps stress on the animals to a minimum, one whereby the flow in and through the snake is smooth and can easily be done by management.

As the cattle move through the snake, heat-seeking sensors signal the computer that an animal is in a certain station. From inside the computer room, the whole process can be monitored via computers. The computer screen shows a picture of the individual as it passes through each station. It shows the corresponding readings and calculations and indicates when there is a problem with the system.

The first stop inside the processing barn is where the cattle are separated individually. Here the computer gives each individual animal a serial ID number.

At the second station, pictures are taken. One camera shoots across to get the animal's hip height and another camera above takes a picture to measure hip width. The cameras take anywhere from eight to 24 images of the animal in a matter of seconds as it passes through the system. A range of hip height measurements and hip width measurements is automatically fed into the computer system and the computer calculates an average number for the respective measurements. That average hip height and hip width are plugged into a predetermined formula that helps determine frame score and fat thickness. Eventually, infrared heat sensoring will be used to determine how much fat is on the animal.

A minimum and maximum days on feed number is plugged into the computer program and the program regurgitates the appropriate number of days on feed for each individual animal based on the measurements taken throughout the process. Cattle are then sorted accordingly into their respective pens based on their projected outweight date.

Unlike some other FBO yards, Garden City is not using ultrasound.

"We save about 45 seconds by not ultrasounding individuals," Bilberry said. "We believe we can do enough benchmarking with the other information that we gather without using ultrasound."

The next station is where electronic ID eartags are read. If the animal does not have an EID tag, it is given one when it reaches the processing chute.

The EID number is used to track everything from pen number to feed consumption and average daily gain. Every single bit of information about each individual animal remains with that animal from the time the tag goes into its ear until its carcass is hanging in FBO's processing center.

At the next station, the animal is weighed and the individual weight is attached to the animal's corresponding EID tag.

Finally the animal reaches the actual processing chute, where it's given all its proper vaccinations, implants and EID tag if need be, as well as a bigger white tag, called the visual tag, which has the lot number along with a sequential number that corresponds to the animal's EID number.

By the time the animal reaches the processing chute, the computer has already completed the necessary calculations and a sort pen comes up on the chute-side computer. A seven-way hydraulic system allows the cattle to be sorted into seven different groups. Similar cattle are commingled and cattle are shipped out based on their estimated outweight and individual out-date projection.

"All we're trying to do is increase our efficiency and at the same time increase red meat yields," Bilberry reiterated.

Most cattle go through the sorting system at least twice. All cattle go back through the system at reimplant time. Right now, because they're getting smaller cattle than they anticipate in the future, some of the cattle will go through the system three times.

All of FBO's participating yards have similar technology, but each yard has a system specifically suited for its particular needs. The Garden City yard, however, is the only one equipped with a double lane for processing. The processing crew consists of six people strategically placed. One member of the crew works the back of the snake, another individual is positioned in the middle to make sure the cattle are separated in the first chute, and then an individual is located at each of the processing chutes.

On a good day with no computer or camera problems, the crew can process from 125 to 150 head per hour per line.

How rapidly the cattle move through the system is also dependent on the number of vaccinations that have to be given as well as whether or not the animals already have their EID tags. When the tag has to be put in, the crew uses a special wand at the processing chute to scan the tag and get the appropriate information into the computer system. All of that takes time.

In the future, Bilberry said he expects to be running two shifts of processing crews.

"We'll need to be able to get through about 2000 head a day to stay ahead of the pack. We'll be shipping night and day."

FBO's Mike Neill, based at FBO headquarters in Parker, Colorado, told listeners that managing individual animals rather than groups of cattle is one step in producing a more consistent end product, but it's only one of many steps.

"We're talking about a big, big picture," Neill told the tour group. "I don't even have a full grasp of the whole operation. Every day I see something new.

"Managing individual animals is only part of the picture. It's also about what we do with the animals once they get to the product facility, and how we handle the product there to ensure beef safety, to ensure that we have a consistent quality product going out the door to the customer.

He said the telltale picture came for him the first time he walked into FBO's cooler.

"In other coolers, you'll find carcasses a foot off the ground and others way off the ground," he told the group. "There's a lot of inconsistency, but when I walked down the line in our coolers the first thing I noticed was that all the carcasses were the same.

"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," Neill concluded.

Bilberry concurred.

"It's been a real experience to go from a commodity feedyard to one with leading edge technology. We believe this technology, this whole concept, will truly change the industry," Bilberry said.