THE Wrangler Feedyard in Texas is a mighty food-production machine. A staggering 650 tonnes of feed is mixed each and every day to feed the 46,000 cattle that call Wrangler home for 100 to 400 days on grain, depending on the requirements of the customer.
Wrangler general manager Walt Garrison said the cattle were fed three times a day - at 6am, 9am and noon - to provide an average of 14kg/animal/day in high-performance feed.
"Our role is to get the best performance from the cattle while they are in the feedyard, and building long-term relationships with our suppliers of cattle and the customers for their beef," Mr Garrison said. "There are plenty of our own cattle in the yard, but we are really a custom feedyard."
Wrangler Feedyard was one of a number of facilities visited in Texas on the Alltech US beef industry tour after the recent Alltech Global conference in Lexington, Kentucky.
Wrangler has recently finished trial work with the natural Alltech product PN-finisher as an alternative to monensin, a traditional animal feed performance enhancer, and in-feed medication including antibiotics.
All the cattle fed in Wrangler are marketed in 22,680kg (50,000lbs) lots of live cattle and processed at Tyson Fresh Foods, 92km north at Amarillo.
The double-deck trailers carrying the cattle cost about A$3.24/km (US$3.85/mile) in haulage.
All of the cattle are sold in carcase form after they have been processed.
The ration essentially consists of steamed-flaked corn, Cargill's ethanol by-product-derived feed ingredient Sweet Bran-plus and other by-products including chopped corn stalks, in addition to other nutrients.
"We are able to take advantage of by-products because the US people subsidise the ethanol industry," Mr Garrison said. "Our principle at Cactus is to make beef affordable to everyone. We have to be as efficient as we can.
"We're competing against all of the other proteins out there. We need to make sure we have our spot on the shelf in the grocery store."
Technology plays a major part in maximising the productivity of the cattle.
Cattle in Wrangler are implanted with the Merck Animal Health product Revalor (trenbolone acetate and estradiol) implant to increase feed efficiency. The slow-release delivery system is said to increase weight gains by 5 to 23pc and feed efficiencies can improve 3 to 11pc.
The cattle are also fed the Elanco product Optaflexx (ractopamine hydrochloride) during the last 28 days before processing. The beta-adrenergic agonist helps the animal gain about 10kg in extra carcase weight, Mr Garrison says.
Wrangler is a 194-hectare property.
About 10,000 cattle are constantly is use for research purposes by the Cactus group. Founded by Paul Engler in 1975, Cactus Feeders has grown into a $750 million company employing about 500 people.
It has 10 major feedlots spread across the Texas High Plains and the adjoining region of south-west Kansas.
The world's largest privately owned cattle-feeding operation, which has its headquarters in Amarillo, is also 100pc employee owned.
"When our people drive through that gate in the morning, I want them thinking like owners," Mr Engler says on his website www.cactusfeeders.com.
"Employee ownership means that each employee has a personal stake in the performance of the cattle and the success of Cactus Feeders.
"For our cattle-feeding customers, this translates into a level of care and feeding for their cattle that only ownership can provide."
Mr Engler said the same thinking applied to the design and maintenance of the feedlots.
"We spend a lot of time and money taking care of the pens, the facilities and the equipment. It's not because it's the easiest way or because it costs less, but because we want to provide an environment where our cattle can perform well."
Mr Engler said it was vital to pay attention to the small details - the pen conditions, to use of mounds, dust control, having the right equipment to mix and deliver feed - as it paid off in better cattle performance.
"I've always said you can tell an awful lot about a feedyard before you even see the cattle by looking at the equipment and the facilities, by looking at the way they treat the cattle and how the employees take care of the place.
"It's also better for the employees - to have a clean place to work with the right tools for getting the job done."
Mr Engler said long-term relationships were the key to successful businesses.
"It's easy to find someone to do business with, but if you want to build a long-term relationship, you better have a partner, not just a customer.
"That's why Cactus Feeders partners with our customers; we want them to know that we have just as much at stake as they do in seeing the cattle do well.
"You can't be afraid to give the other guy just a little better deal than your own, because if he knows that you're in it for the long haul, with his interest in mind, that's where the partnership pays off for both of you. That extends to all parts of the business - not just cattle feeder customers."
Whether it's buying grain or value-based marketing; if you want it to pay off in the long run, build a partnership."