Market forces and other factors drove Future Beef Operations out of business in 2002, but there has been at least one positive outcome. FBO developed a network of progressive cow-calf operations and feedyards, with an emphasis on traceability, quality assurance and beef safety. Now its former suppliers, having invested in technology and management systems to meet program standards, are well positioned to focus on other value-based marketing opportunities.

Hy-Plains Feedyard, a 52,000-head feeding business near Montezuma, Kan., is one of those operations. Tom Jones and Jerry Riemann are co-owners and share management responsibilities at Hy-Plains. The team, Mr. Jones says, “is focused on maintaining and enhancing its commitment to protect the quality of beef and maximize the value of every animal finished in the feedyard.”

Mr. Reiman says he believes strongly that in today’s feeding environment, the big gains in production efficiency will come through better management of the cattle inventory by eliminating discounts at marketing, maximizing the genetic growth potential of each animal and focusing on end-product quality.

After purchasing Hy-Plains feedyard in 1999, the owners called on animal-handling specialist Temple Grandin to help design a state-of-the-art process-ing and sorting facility to accommodate FBO’s stress-free handling, quality-assurance and value-based marketing requirements.

With the loss of FBO, Hy-Plains turned to Performance Cattle Company’s Cattle Classification and Sorting System for evaluating and sorting cattle. Electronic identification is a key component to link each animal to the database. The CCSS uses an innovative device to measure external dimensions of cattle, which along with current weights determines a target finish weight for each animal. The system uses a model licensed from Cornell University to project daily growth based on energy intake and other growth factors. The CCSS then automatically sorts cattle into pens based on projected marketing dates.

The system maintains projection and performance statistics for each pen of cattle and adjusts daily growth projections based on actual intake. Mr. Jones says it also has the capability to compare numerous grids and evaluate which offers the best price for a group of cattle based on projections of live and carcass weight as well as quality grade and yield.

The management team continuously looks for ways to enhance their BQA efforts, leading to the adoption of a new way to administer vaccines  —  the Pulse Needle Free injection system. This device uses pneumatic pressure to shoot a pre-measured dose of vaccine through an animal’s skin without the use of a needle. Data from the manufacturer, from university tests and from the first year of use at the feedyard show the injection system offers a number of benefits, Mr. Jones says.

  • The needle-free system reduces the possibility of transferring disease organisms between animals.
  • The high-pressure injection disperses the vaccine evenly through the tissue beneath the skin. This improves absorption and efficacy, resulting in less morbidity, better performance and higher end-product quality.
  • Better absorption reduces the possibility of injection-site abscesses or inflammation.
  • Elimination of needles helps assure worker safety. 
  • Finally, Mr. Jones says cattle rarely react to the needle-free injection, suggesting it minimizes discomfort and stress.

Mr. Jones says the feedyard’s quality-assurance programs can protect and enhance the value of uniform pens of high-quality cattle, and also lends itself well to less uniform groups going on feed. Because of the small average size of U.S. cow herds, order buyers often purchase cattle from several sources to make a load. Many individual animals have the potential to produce high-quality beef, but their endpoints in terms of grade, yield and days on feed can differ considerably. Strategic sorting based on objective measurement and analysis, along with a comprehensive quality-assurance program, helps the feedyard maximize the value of each animal.