Fort Morgan and Denver, Colorado
Department of Plant Agriculture

Day 7 - Saturday

Animal welfare, corporate Integration and Land use policies

By:  Jeroen, Carson, Jake and Nicole  

Arial view of a farm in Colorado
Hey everyone, this is the self proclaimed "Dream team!-. We are very excited to be the monitors for September 2nd as this marks the sixth day of the Midwest Crop Tour! Today we loaded the bus at 7:30 AM and headed west for the last time, to Ft. Morgan, Colorado. Since we were monitors, we made sure everyone's luggage made it back onto the bus and each seat on the bus was filled. It was so convenient having McDonalds right next to the hotel; how could you resists a breakfast sandwich and hash-brown! Once on the road, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop as everyone fell fast asleep. The themes of the day were animal welfare, corporate integration and land use policy. We were on our way to Gilcrest feedlot, a part of JBS Five Rivers, a large corporate owned business and one of the largest beef producers in North America. After having done some research, we found that 80% of US beef comes from four producers- Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS USA and National Beef. JBS has 22% market share in beef and some of the cattle from the Gilcrest Feedlot go directly to a JBS packing plant. While all of us monitors have a cattle background, we knew coming in, a lot of the students had mixed feelings regarding the perceptions of a corporate farm. Upon arriving we were greeted by Judd Butler who is the manager of Gilcrest feedlot and has been responsible for the operation for 25 years. In that time, he has seen the company change ownership four times, however the principles have remained the same which are people, stewardship, customers and good neighbours. Overall, we learned that though it can be daunting, the people that raise beef at the Gilcrest feedlot are regular people with families and similar priorities to the average consumer. We learned about the social, environmental and economic impacts of feeding cattle on a large scale.

We began the visit with a delicious lunch in the basement of the office buildings. Once everyone was full, Judd Butler began telling us about the company and the many aspects that go into running the feedlot with a PowerPoint. Gilcrest Feedlot has forty two total employees and produce 1.7 million pounds of feed per day. 82,000 to 106,000 are shipped annually to Gilcrest while 88,000 to 110,000 cattle were received annually. There were many great questions asked and the discussion was awesome, leaving most of the class a little less skeptical of what a feedlot is about. This was followed up by the much anticipated bus tour of the feed lot where we explored the lot and the different components. Many of us could not believe the size of the feedlot, covering a total of 640 acres! Together as a team, us four monitors decided the main themes of the day were stewardship, corporate integration and production which we are going to talk about as you read on!

At Gilcrest feedlot, the core business is feeding cattle as well creating a closely aligned value, investing to achieve longevity of the business and maximizing the returns to shareholders. Five Rivers is a leader in the cattle feeding industry and they take that very seriously when looking at the future of the company as noted in the mission statement. As we talk about stewardship there are many social and environmental impacts related with a beef feedlot in North America. Judd Butler expressed that conversations with people who are skeptical and uneducated about beef production may be difficult to have.  Map of USA

Management of nutrients must be planned out with a large livestock operation and it must comply with all National and State Environmental Regulations. A lot of manure is produced at Gilcrest, approximately 90,000 tons annually requiring the Five Rivers Feedlot to pay $.75 to $1.00 for removal of solid manure. Judd commented on how they have to be "weathermen" by planning ahead of weather events with proper management and record keeping for events such as rain and high winds. As a part of their Nutrient Management Plan, lagoons were installed to capture water runoff from the feedlot and prevent it from getting into the water system. There are two lagoons, one big lagoon holding 27,324,003 gallons and the small one holding 21,657,840 gallons and often this water is used to sprinkle on the sand cattle pens to prevent dust that may occur on dry, windy days.  The dust is a large concern for the neighbouring town and the Gilcrest feedlot puts a lot of efforts into preventing complaints, especially since this is the driest it has been in three years and it is football season. Berms are used throughout the feedlot to slow water runoff down and redirect it to the lagoons.

Health care of animals is very important because sickness and disease can spread rapidly in a herd of 210-250 cattle per pen. The Cattle Department of the feedlot is made up of twelve employees and their responsibilities include herd health, product safety, pen integration, animal handing and quality control. Although all those components are important, herd health is a main focus as walking the pens and looking for respiratory disease and bloats is done every day. If a sick animal is discovered then they are taken to the hospital that is on the site where it is given the proper medication, which is often antibiotics depending on the disease. Once the animal has received medication, an extra ear tag for the treatment given is put on the animal as this will determine the proper withdrawal period lasting anywhere from five to 48 days. A withdrawal period determines the amount of time that animal cannot be used for any animal derived product. Incoming cattle automatically have a 42 day withdrawal period in which they cannot be shipped in that time. Antibiotics and hormones are used at Gilcrest for the production of beef and often this is an area that causes many consumers to question these practices. Judd commented on how it is often younger and uneducated societies that have these issues this these practices. Without antibiotics ill animals could be suffering and potentially dying which is why medical practices are in place.

The Gilcrest Feedlot has changed ownership several times since it was built in the 1970s, as we mentioned Judd had been around for four of these transitions and for the most part found that they were seamless. He was able to run things the way he always had. This time Judd said he thinks it might be different.

The Batista family that runs the Brazilian parent company were busted for corruption involving 150 million USD worth of bribes and many Brazilian politicians. As a result they must pay $3.2 billion in compensation over 25 years. To accomplish this, they are selling various assets including JBS Five Rivers.

Another aspect of the JBS business is it's meat packing plants, all the finished cattle from Five Rivers Cattle Feeding are sold to JBS USA meat packing plants. This is the main aspect of the Batista family's business. By selling the feedlots and keeping the packing plants the company will ideally still be able to continue providing 22% of the United States beef. They will likely have purchasing agreements with the new owners.  Cattle at a feeding trough

Gilcrest Feedlot has become as efficient as possible while creating quality beef. The beef is sourced by cattle buyers from South & North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The cattle are brought into the lot weighing in at 500-800 lbs. Judd prefers to source cattle in large groups to reduce co-mingling when they reach the feed yard. Judd's rule of thumb, is that for every animal purchased from the sale barn, he wants three from the countryside.  These cattle are then fed until they reach approximately 1500 lbs, with 1600 lbs being their upper limit. Every day cattle are being shipped to JBS slaughter facilities.

Production is driven by the different departments which include the feed department, mill department, cattle, shipping and receiving, and the office team. The feed department duties include delivering from the mill to the correct pens in a consistent manner, bunk reading duties, and bunk maintenance. The feed department has three feed trucks and made up of 6 employees. The Mill Department duties include grain, plus commodity receiving and steam flaking. There are eight employees in this department. The cattle department was mentioned above and consisted of twelve people. Shipping and Receiving unloads and evaluates   new arrivals of cattle plus coordinates processing and finished cattle to the JBS packaging plant. The Office Department does data entry and editing. Jobs also include accounts payable, accounts receivable, scale operation, commodity tracking, general ledger and financial reporting.

On a cattle feedlot, feed is one of the most expensive cost to the business so managing this part is very crucial. Gilcrest stated that consistency was a huge driver to their success in their feeding program. Feed samples would be sent every week to test for dry matters, crude protein and other important nutritional components. Feeds were also tested every day on farm the dry matter content of the feed. This is very important to have consistent dry matter intakes and minimal leftovers. Judd also mentioned that they monitored their TMR mixer every 3 months to ensure mixing was properly done to have consistent feed along the feed manager and an optimal particle size. Two nutritionists worked full time for Five Rivers to balance seven different rations for each feedlot. Judd also explained to have a successful beef feedlot, you must have low death rates. Keys to having low death rates are buying good cattle, making sure feed is digestible with good quality, and keeping a close eye on everything.
Overall, this tour showed many of us what a large scale beef feedlot looks like as many of us have not seen an operation like Gilcrest Feedlot. Judd Butler and his employees touched on many aspects surrounding Five Rivers and JBS as a whole. Stewardship, corporate integration and the production system were common themes throughout the day and sparked a lot of interest in discussions. Though the public may not have the best perception of feed yards, Judd and his team do all they can to produce beef in a sustainable way. They address issues like run-off and dust proactively and try to be the best neighbours they can. Feeding cattle is difficult when it comes to the economics, but using the production practices applied at Five Rivers, they can still make money and create many jobs. On the way home we had a new appreciation for the beef industry and everyone wanted a nice juicy steak, even the vegans.