Catching Perry Owens on his cell phone as he traveled down the interstate, I asked him about cattle. He was somewhere near Minneapolis, Kansas, on his way to his youngest daughter Jacee’s high school basketball game the night before he left for the Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa.
“I’ve been in the feedyard business since 1982,” he said. ”I got into it right after I graduated from Fort Hays State University. The feedyard business has changed since then. Packers used to race to feedyards, they wanted to be first in line. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now most people just turn their cattle in on a grid or formula of some sort and let a few negotiate the price for them. We were selling heifers at 1,100 pounds and steers at 1,200 pounds. Now we’re selling cattle 150 pounds heavier, at least.”
Owens, a Leoti, Kan., native, is a third-generation farmer. “Grandpa had cattle and sheep and my dad and mom were farmers and ran stocker cattle, too.” Owens, and his wife Bonnie, who is the secretary at the yard, have a fourth-generation ready to take over and a fifth-generation – four grandchildren - waiting their turn.
“My youngest son Tyrel wants to be involved in the cattle business. He’s interested in heritage breeds.” The other two boys Cade, who takes care of the health of the cattle, and Paden, who takes care of the feed calls, currently work with him at the feedyard. Owens said that is one of the best things about agriculture is that you get to work with your family.
“My daughters are my oldest and my youngest and I have three boys in the middle. The girls helped keep the boys in line,” he said. His oldest daughter, Jada, and her husband are the proud parents of the four grandchildren.
Owens is part owner of Ottawa County Feeders near Minneapolis, a small town of about 2,000 located about 3 hours west of Kansas City. He’s been managing the business for almost ten years. “We can feed 8,000 cattle,” he told me, “but we usually run about 6-7,000. We do a lot of specialty feeding and that’s where we make our money.
“We’ve all tried to get more competitive a few years ago and began to market cattle. ‘Can I do a better marketing job than the feedyard down the road,’ was a question we asked. Selling feed, though, makes the money for the feedyard; not selling cattle. That is a customer service.”
Like most Cattlemen’s Beef Board members, Owens is active in the industry. He’s president and a board member of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, and a member of the Kansas Livestock Association Feeders Council. He’s active in the community, a member of the Parish Council of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Minneapolis and a Confirmation teacher.
He was nominated for the CBB post last year by the KCA and appointed to the position soon afterwards by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack. He missed the first meeting in Nashville but he was in Tampa. “I plan to listen and learn as much as I can,” he said just before he boarded a plane.
“I’m on the Joint Value subcommittee. We’ll work hard to find ways to add value to beef.”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.