Feeding cattle has become a science, and every ingredient that is added to a ration is done so with precision. However, it wasn’t always this way.
Dr. John Matsushima, a retired Colorado State University Animal Science professor, was a pioneer in the field and helped to revolutionize the way that beef cattle are fed. During his 30-year career as a professor and researcher in the Department of Animal Sciences, Matsushima became a world-renowned expert in beef-cattle feeding for greater efficiency, profitability and carcass quality. His innovations, beginning in the 1960s, helped modernize and expand U.S. beef production with scientific underpinnings, data-based decision making and global reach.
Matsushima was honored on Jan. 14 as the 2013 Citizen of the West honoree at the National Western Stock Show. He joined a roster of Western luminaries who have notably contributed to Colorado and the region. Matsushima is estimated to have educated 10,000 students during his tenure as a professor.
“Johnny represents the best of the world of academia. He has an inquiring mind that hungers for knowledge, and I just can’t say enough about his impact on students. He also represents the best of the world of agriculture. What he has accomplished with people and leaders over the decades is enormous,” said Pat Grant, chairman of long-range planning for the National Western and co-chair of the Citizen of the West Steering Committee. “Certainly in the world of beef, I do not know anyone who has had more influence than Johnny Matsushima.”
Dr. Matsushima is well known in the beef cattle feeding world, for his work as a pioneer in how corn is used in rations. He figured out the process of using steam and mechanical pressure to macerate corn kernels into flakes, which helped to improve feed efficiency by about 10 percent. This reduced the amount of grain needed in feedlot rations, which helped to improve the profit margin for these feeders.
The idea came to him one morning when he was eating breakfast with some other cattle feeders. He thought that maybe cattle would like hot grain as well, and that is when he first got his idea for steam-flaked grains. The year was 1961.
The late Kenny Monfort, a Colorado cattle baron and an early adopter of Matsushima’s technology, joked that he flaked more corn than Kellogg’s at his feedlots. At the time, Monfort was taking over Monfort of Colorado, Inc. from his father Warren, and was growing the feedlot into the first 100,000 head feedlot located near Greeley, Colo.
Matsushima partnered with Colorado cattle feeders to put discoveries into action, propelling beef to its status as a $3-billion agricultural sector in Colorado and the state’s top commodity. Colorado is ranked as the fifth state in the nation for cattle on feed.
“I don’t think Colorado would be a top-five cattle feeding state if it weren’t for Johnny’s work,” said Daryl Tatum, a professor in CSU’s Department of Animal Sciences, who is among those carrying Matsushima’s torch in understanding links between nutrition and meat quality. “Johnny did as much as anybody in teaching and research to elevate the commercial cattle-feeding industry in Colorado and elsewhere. He was a game-changer.”
Matsushima, who was born on Dec. 24, 1920 at Mercy Hospital in Denver, Colo., was a son to Japanese immigrants. His birth name was Kiichiro, and they lived near Lafayette, Colo. He attended first grade at Davidson School in Boulder County, and spoke very little English. His teacher, who had a hard time understanding the language, nicknamed him Johnny, and the name stuck.
He had seven other siblings, and their family struggled financially. His parents saved everything they could, and eventually bought an 80-acre vegetable farm near Platteville, Colo. He worked on the farm, and sold muskrat pelts on the side to help his family.
He became involved in 4-H and FFA, and held several officer positions in his local chapters. He got his first exposure with cattle when he was showing them at the Weld County Fair through 4-H.
He graduated from Platteville High School as valedictorian. After high school, he attended Colorado A&M, now known as CSU, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1943 and his master’s degrees in 1945 in animal science. He worked all the way through school.
He then earned a doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota, where he was recruited for beef nutrition. His dissertation focused on fattening feedlot steers. He worked for a time at the University of Nebraska and returned to CSU in 1961 as a faculty expert in feedlot nutrition, at the suggestion of Warren Monfort.
He retired from CSU in 1992 with an emeritus professor status, and he still has an office in the animal science building on campus.
In addition to his work in the U.S., he also helped to establish cattle feeding worldwide, with focused efforts in Africa, Italy, Australia, Canada, China and Japan. He is also known for his contribute to helping open new Asian markets for U.S. beef exports, including Japan.
For this work, he has received many honors, including the Japanese Emperor Citation, or “Tenno Hosho,” presented in 2009 by Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The award typically is given only to national dignitaries and corporate leaders.
Now an active 92-year-old, Matsushima credited his late wife, Dorothy, their children, Bob and Nancy, and other family members, friends and colleagues for forgiving his absences and supporting his tireless work and travels.
However, his perseverance was also essential to success. Matsushima recently visited the 100,000-head Kuner Feedlot, established by Monfort of Colorado Inc. and now owned by JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding. It was a frequent stop during the height of his career.
As Matsushima surveyed Angus crossbred cattle at the feedlot, he explained his ongoing quest to gain and share information. “Knowledge,” he said, “never goes out of season.”
The award ceremony, which drew around 800 people, was held at the National Western Complex in Denver, Colo. The event is held to raise money for 74 scholarships given each year by the National Western Scholarship Trust to Colorado and Wyoming students who are pursuing college degrees in agricultural sciences, large-animal veterinary medicine, and medicine for practice in rural communities.
Citizen of the West honorees, selected by a committee of community leaders, embody the spirit and determination of the Western pioneer and are committed to perpetuating the West’s agricultural heritage and ideals. The Citizen of the West honor roll is a regional Who’s Who of political, business, educational, philanthropic and agricultural leaders. ❖
“Certainly in the world of beef, I do not know anyone who has had more influence than Johnny Matsushima.”
~ Pat Grant