Pioneer Feedlot, Oakley, Kan. | There is no drought of beef stock at the sprawling feedlots sprinkled about western Kansas.
“We’re swamped with cattle,” says Calder Keller of the Pioneer, Inc., lot as he takes the drought chasers on a tour in his pickup.
The lot is at near-capacity with 32,000 head, but the view from his cab is deceptive. The animals don’t venture into the hot sun but to eat from the feed troughs along the edges, so many of the football-field-sized pens appear empty. Look closer into the shady spots within the open barns, however, and the cows stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
With corn prices high — about $8 per bushel — area ranchers facing depleted grazing lands “can either spend a bunch of money on feed, or sell their cattle and let us do it,” says Keller, 24, who manages the lot run by his family since 1960.
Livestock producers are selling to feedlots about a month earlier than they would in a normal summer. Cows will stay here a few months, do little but eat, and after gaining several hundred pounds, they’ll be off to slaughter this winter.
Many smaller producers, especially, are selling off good. Compared to the farm-to-grocer beef conglomerates, it’s harder for little ranchers with limited capital and shallower pockets to ride out a bad year.
“They’re liquidating — out and done,” says R. Scott “Bronc” Barrows of the K-State Research and Extension Service in nearby Trego County.
Even the Keller family is moving on, having recently sold its Pioneer feedlot (which is not related to the seed giant).
“Dad’s seen a lot, and he can’t remember the last time things have been so tough,” Calder Keller says. “Anyone’s apt to get burned out after a while.”
|Rick Montgomery, firstname.lastname@example.org.