Feedyard cowboys, office managers and data collectors carry the torch

Farm Forum

Moving your cattle along to meet the goals of everyone in the beef supply chain takes focus on the data-backed decisions to add and capture value.

Without people like Kenny Montgomery, Ruth Ammon and Meg Groves, those dollars from down the chain might never make it back to the ranch. These are some of the people who keep the plan on course when your cattle enter the feedyard and packing plant.

Montgomery is a cowboy in the classic sense. He’s tough, unassuming and resilient – maybe that’s why Pratt Feeders, Pratt, Kan., has made him a part of its team for so long.

It started when chance put manager Jerry Bohn in the same room with the animal science senior near graduation day. A short conversation and nearly 18 years later, the men work together to finish cattle at the 40,000-head-capacity feedyard.

But there’s more to it than simply placing your bets on animal science and hoping for the best. As far as sorting cattle for the grid and keeping records, “It’s trying to manage each animal to their full potential for their owners,” Montgomery says. “How can we get them to generate the most, and be able to relay carcass data back?

“It’s an ongoing deal. You continue to strive to want to learn more, want to do more, to help people in the beef industry.”

That industry is layered with passion, people wanting the very best for the cattle and product they place on the market. So Montgomery’s role is crucial. Each day is spent advancing the goals cattlemen set long before they unload calves at Pratt.

He oversees a crew of 12, the pen riders, processors and part timers responsible for cattle coming in, going out and everything in between.

“It takes everybody to do it. Everyone’s role, from the water tank washer to the general manager, nothing works without each piece of that being accomplished along the way.”

For a great example of how to fit all of those intricate pieces together, look no further than Ruth Ammon.

If you walk into Darnall Feedlot’s office, Harrisburg, Neb. – whether you’re lost on the quiet western Nebraska county road or a rancher looking to feed some cattle – Ammon’s smiling face is sure to greet you.

She may look like a typical secretary, but if you could see everything she does in a day, you would see much more. Over the last 10 years, the University of Wyoming animal science graduate has incrementally added both hours and responsibilities as office manager at the 24,000-head feedlot.

Ammon weighs trucks, answers questions and figures a breakeven with ease. Her entire goal is to make others’ jobs easier. When anyone, from cowboys to feedyard owner-managers Gary and Lane Darnall, wants to know what’s going on in a day, they look no further than her central bulletin board.

“It doesn’t seem to matter where you are, communication is critical,” she says.

That’s true externally, too.

Many cattlemen are anxious to get their carcass and feedlot data back, and because it’s important to them, it’s important to Ammon. She’ll track it down.

“The customer really wants to know how they perform and how that compares to the rest of the industry,” she says. “They want to know if they’re doing everything right.”

Meg Groves is one who can tell them.

As the carcass data manager for the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF), Lewis, Iowa – perhaps the most well-known and largest feedout discovery program in the nation – Groves takes her job seriously. Starting many days at 3:45 a.m., she assembles her crew and points the car toward the packing plant. More than five minutes late to one of those early morning meet-ups and you get left behind. Being a man short is better than being late.

“If you miss the [processing] order….well, that’s everything. You can’t just go back the next day,” she says. Neither snooze button nor snowstorm will keep them from gathering the marbling, backfat and KPH (kidney, pelvic and heart fat) information. If there’s winter weather on the way, they stay in a hotel the night before.

During a high-volume season, Groves is in the packing plant almost every day. One day she and a coworker take down the “tag transfer” data, matching the eartag number with the plant ID. The following day, four or five of the crew head into the cooler, taking carcass notes right next to the USDA grader. The line runs fast, so they must be focused and efficient.

And it’s no wonder Groves is so committed. The producers who feed with the futurity depend on that data for breeding and management decisions.

Ushering thousands of cattle through feeding and processing each year, she and her team make it possible for cattlemen from across the country to learn more about how their animals do post-weaning, and allow TCSCF manager Darrell Busby to continue making discoveries that improve the entire beef industry.

Montgomery, Ammon and Groves – simply put, they’re enablers, of the very best variety. They work for and alongside producers to maximize the value of all cattle they encounter, with the goal of providing consumers with consistent, high-quality beef.