As a young man, Bob Josserand dreamed of owning a Colorado mountain ranch and a herd of 300 cows. His career, however, took a different direction, leading him from Kansas to Colorado, back to Kansas and on to Texas, where he built one of the country’s most successful cattle-feeding businesses.
Josserand’s interest in the cattle business began as a boy growing up in the 1940s. His father was a cattle buyer who assembled groups of Southern Plains feeder cattle to ship by rail to feedlots in the Corn Belt. Josserand frequently accompanied those carloads of cattle, viewing the heartland of the nation from the train’s caboose.
His interest in cattle led him to Colorado State University (then called Colorado A&M), where he earned a degree in animal science in 1953. Following college, he served a tour in the United States Air Force, then returned to Colorado where he served as a county Extension agent in Springfield and Julesburg. After a time with a local feedyard, he took a position as a loan officer at a Julesburg bank, where he learned about finance and the factors contributing to success or failure of agricultural businesses.
After a few years in banking, a Kansas family hired Josserand to develop and manage three cattle-growing yards in southwest Kansas, along with surrounding farmland used to produce forage for the yards, which ranged from 5,000 to 8,000 head in capacity.
Around that time, the cattle-feeding industry in the Texas Panhandle region was experiencing tremendous growth, and Farr Better Feeds, owned by a prominent member of the Farr family, lured Josserand to Hereford Texas to serve as regional manager for Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. (Cattle-feeding pioneer W.D. Farr was inducted to the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame in 2009.)
In 1973, ProChemco Cattle Company, a division of a large petroleum and mineral operation, hired Josserand to run its five feedyards in Texas and Arizona. The cattle markets crashed that year, but Josserand persisted and under his leadership the company grew and prospered.
In 1983, a Los Angeles petroleum company purchased ProChemco (which had become AZL Resources) and decided to sell off the cattle division. Josserand recognized the opportunity and purchased the company, which became AzTx Cattle Company, so named because of its feedyards in Arizona and Texas. Today AzTx Cattle Company operates Hereford Feed Yard in Texas. AzTX also has developed a cattle-export business, shipping cattle from the port at Galveston, Texas, to help build high-quality herds in countries such as Russia.
A passion for service
In addition to his demanding career in the cattle business, Josserand always found time to serve the industry and his community. He served on the boards of directors of the National Livestock and Meat Board, Beef Industry Council, Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) and National Cattlemen's Association, and is a past member of the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board and the Operating Committee of that board. He is a past president of TCFA and National Cattlemen's Beef Association and served as chairman of the National Cattlemen's Foundation Board of Trustees. Josserand successfully ran for mayor of Hereford in 1993 and served in that capacity until he retired in 2015.
In 1988, Josserand was commissioned by former Gov. Bill Clements as a member of the Texas Agriculture Task Force. In 1993, he was inducted into the International Stockmen's Hall of Fame by the International Livestock Congress. In 1998, he received the National Golden Spur Award sponsored by the Ranching Heritage Association, and in 2007, he was selected Livestock Leader by the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. He also was named Hereford's 1994 Citizen of the Year and currently serves on the Llano Estacado Regional Water Planning Group.
He and his wife, Nancy, have been married for 60 years and have four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Looking back at his career in cattle feeding, Josserand says Earl Brookover, a cattle-feeding pioneer who founded Brookover Feed Yards in Kansas, was a great friend, influencer and mentor. He recalls driving around Kansas with Brookover, surveying cattle and crops, chatting and learning many of the lessons he applied through his career.
Over his decades of feeding cattle, Josserand says gains in efficiency stand out as one of the most dramatic changes he’s seen. In his early years of cattle feeding, cattle finished at around 950 pounds. Today, feedyards market cattle averaging more than 1,300 pounds, at significantly younger ages and less time on feed compared with the past. Josserand credits scientific research and industry adoption of genetic improvement, animal-health technologies, feed-processing systems and growth promotion with improving efficiency of beef production.
Josserand remains optimistic about the future of cattle feeding and agriculture in the United States, but expresses some concerns. The feeding and packing industries have consolidated more quickly and extensively than expected, and he believes price discovery can become less transparent and less reliable with fewer buyers and fewer cattle sold on cash bids.
Josserand also notes that as our population becomes increasingly removed from direct contact with agriculture, consumers and politicians lose sight of its importance to our economy and national security. They seem to accept an idea that the country can shift away from agricultural production and simply import food from elsewhere. At the same time, countries such as Russia and China are investing in their agricultural infrastructures to become more self-sufficient in food production.
Reflecting on all the changes in U.S. cattle production over the past 60 years, Josserand sums it up saying, “It’s been an interesting ride.”