From the June-July issue: Drovers tour visits Knievel farms and JBS-Five Rivers Kuner feedyard in Colorado.

Seeing the beef production system first-hand fosters understanding and advocacy, and the process begins within our own community. To facilitate that experience, Drovers/CattleNetwork periodically hosts Beef Systems Tours as a service to our advertisers. Our goal is to help the people who market products to farmers, ranchers and veterinarians experience multiple aspects and segments of U.S. beef production, so they can develop accurate and effective messages for their customers and the general public.

During the week of May 5, we held our 2014 Drovers Beef Systems Tour in northern Colorado, travelling out of Fort Collins to visit cow-calf, seedstock, feedyard, farming, research, livestock market and beef-packing operations in the foothills and on the High Plains.

Following are a few highlights from the second day of the tour. A subsequent article will cover our visits to JBS beef packing and New Belgium Brewing.

Click here to view the second article in this series, covering visits to Colorado State University, Leachman Cattle of Colorado and Centennial Livestock Auction.

Knievel Farms, Wiggins, Colo.

Dave Knievel, with his wife and son, operates Knievel farms, a diversified cattle and crop operation on the plains near Wiggins, Colo. The family owns a second ranch near North Platte, Nebraska, where they summer most of their cows. The farming operation produces alfalfa, corn and seed wheat for an area seed company.

Most of the land in the area is under irrigation, but Knievel says one of his properties a short distance from the home farm, but in a different watershed, lost most of its irrigation rights several years ago as water managers attempt to recharge the aquifer feeding the South Platte River. Land values declined from about $8,000 per acre to $1,600, and wheat yields went from an average of 110 bushels per acre on irrigated ground to about 15 on dryland. For corn, Knievel says, yields on his irrigated land last year averaged 225 bushels per acre compared with about 25 on dryland.

The family manages an Angus-based herd of about 250 cows, and uses AI on all replacement heifers. They keep some home-raised bulls for use in their herd and sell 10 to 15 bulls to other area ranchers. They focus their genetic selection on calving ease, other maternal traits and feed efficiency. Knievel says the family has retained additional heifers the past couple years as they expand their herd in response to a strong market.

The family winters cows on corn stalks on their own and rented property, but Knievel says lease rates for grazing corn stubble have increased due to demand for stalks from the area’s growing dairy industry.

Observing a group of cows relaxing on a green pasture, Knievel offered a cattleman’s rule of thumb, saying when cows are lying down by 10:00 am, they have enough forage.

JBS-Five Rivers Kuner Feedyard, Greeley, Colo.

Next, the group visited the JBS-Five Rivers Kuner feedyard, east of Greeley, where assistant general manager Brett Ulrich and specialty-cattle programs coordinator Megan Blythe guided the visit. The Kuner lot is one of the largest feedyards in Colorado, with a one-time capacity of more than 90,000 head. The Monfort family initially built and operated the facility, which opened in 1974. The facility changed ownership several times, and now is part of JBS-Five Rivers, the largest cattle-feeding operation in the United States with a total capacity of more than 900,000 head.

The feedyard markets about 3,500 head of cattle each week and receives about 30 semi loads of corn every day, in addition to other feed ingredients.

About 30 percent of cattle in the yard are finished in “natural” systems that exclude the use of antibiotics or growth promotants. These cattle consume about 15 percent more feed and require an extra 20 to 30 days of finishing compared with cattle in conventional systems, with cost of gain about $0.25 to $0.30 per pound higher, and thus need to bring higher prices at the packing plant to justify the expense.

The company recently invested $18 million in a complete renovation of the feedyard, focused on improving animal comfort and environmental stewardship. Handling facilities designed by CSU animal-welfare specialist Temple Grandin, PhD, reduce stress on cattle and workers, and other improvements have dramatically reduced the feedyard’s use of water and natural gas.

Even after a significant rainfall, our group noted there was virtually no odor in the feedyard. Ulrich explained the yard contracts with another company to compost manure on the site. Managers noticed the composting process was nearly odor-free, and inoculated the feedyard’s lagoons with a proprietary strain of bacteria from the composting operation. The bacteria culture significantly reduces the odor of lagoon water, even when used for dust control in feedyard pens.

See the full article and more in the digital edition of the June-July issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.