The Valley offers ideal climate for feeding cattleWritten by Christy Hemken
One of those feedyards rests just east of Torrington and holds 18,000 head after a 6,000 head expansion in 1991. The others are in Nebraska and Colorado.
“The majority of the cattle we feed are from Wyoming and Montana, with a few coming out of Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska,” says Torrington Division Manager Rondel Carman, who’s been with Dinklage 16 years.
Originally from Oklahoma, Rondel worked for a grain company in Kansas out of college before joining Dinklage in Torrington in 1993 on the milling and feeding side. He became division manager in February 2009, of which he says, “It’s an ongoing learning process, but fun and challenging.”
Of feeding cattle on that scale, Rondel says, “We always try to buy the best ingredients and make the best feed we can and do the best job getting it distributed and mixed at the proper proportions to maximize gain and feed efficiency.”
This fall the feedlot has implemented new programs in terms of sorting and animal health systems. “Those will hopefully allow us to do a better job in marketing cattle at their optimum time,” he notes. “We’re putting less feed into some and more into others to get the top of the market for the cattle when they’re ready to go.”
Almost all the feedlot’s cattle are sold to the four main packinghouses – Cargill, Swift, National and Tyson. “The majority go to Swift or Cargill in Colorado because of freight,” says Rondel.
The Torrington feedlot employs 14 full time people, as well as a part time pen rider through the winter. The feedyard is divided into maintenance, cattle and the feed and mill crew.
“The last couple years there have been a lot of challenges with the market and the whole industry in general,” says Rondel of the feeding business. “One of the biggest challenges is the marketing of the cattle. The industry’s getting to be a challenge with heavyweight cattle, so the sorting and animal health changes we’ve made will hopefully help us better deal with those struggles.”
On the grain side of the business Rondel says it’s his responsibility to buy grain as cheap as he can, which has been another market difficult to figure out with the recent ups and downs.
Most of the grain Dinklage purchases is local, from within a 75-mile radius, Rondel says. “We buy and store corn at harvest, but typically it’s delivered as we need it,” he says.
When the feedyard’s at capacity it feeds around 8,000 bushel of corn a day. “The mill is a complete package, and we steam flake our corn in the complete batching mill, which is running 12 hours a day right now,” explains Rondel, adding that it takes eight hours each day to feed.
“Most years we can buy everything we need to feed for the year right here in valley, so we don’t have to ship grain from eastern Nebraska and add on freight,” he says.
Of the corn market, he says it’s better than last year, but still more than he’d like to see from the feedlot perspective. “It’s not terrible, and it’s within range and we can make do,” he says.
An influence in feeding in the Goshen County area is the weather. The usually dry climate offered one of the coldest, wettest Octobers in 2009 with more moisture than it’s offered in over 100 years statistically, says Rondel.
“Any time we start getting muddy pen conditions there’s extra stress on the cattle for sure,” he notes. “We can’t do anything but manage the best we can to keep the cattle as comfortable as we can.”
“It’s been an awkward year,” he says of 2009. “We had a spring with snowstorms that turned into record amounts of rain, which is good for the farmers and pasture lands but never all that great in a feedyard setting.”
Although not necessarily a health concern, he says wet weather mostly just requires more manpower in dealing with the pens.
He adds the wet year also contributed to heavier weights coming into the feedyard. “Whether that’s a good thing, I don’t know,” he adds. “Because it brought bigger cattle in here, which has been a challenge.”
However he says the valley is generally a fairly dry climate, with annual rainfall of 13 inches.
Of the markets ahead, Rondel says, “We’re all optimistic in hoping things will pick up. The feeder market was good for a while, if you start talking about the fed cattle side, it’s not all that great yet.”