A Cattle Feeding Giant Turns 100
Kihei Matsushima could speak only a bit of English after coming to America from Japan in 1916. His father, Sueji, had come to the states in 1895, making his way working on the railroad across the country to Nebraska and eventually Colorado. After some odd jobs, he found work with a German farmer, Al Leyner, who raised sugar beets near Lafayette, and was able to eventually send for his wife and son. Kihei sent for his wife, Yakuye, in 1918 and their first child, Kiichero, was born on December 24, 1920.
In about 1930, Kihei Matsushima walked high above the Denver Union Stock Yards on the catwalk, as commission men on horseback followed him below as he pointed to pens of cattle he was interested in. A vegetable farmer who still farmed with his father and for the Leyner family, he had a small pasture adjacent to the produce fields that was sitting idle and he had plans to run a few cattle on the grass. A deal was made between Matsushima and the commission man to purchase nine heifers and a bull, all Herefords.
Some time later, the young Kiichero Matsushima, nicknamed Johnny by a teacher who couldn’t pronounce his given name, was bouncing along in a truck filled with cabbage for delivery to market in Denver. The load was rejected for worms and he returned home, deciding to feed the subpar cabbage to the cattle. The young Matsushima watched the cattle gain weight on the discarded produce and said he was hooked. He learned then that cattle didn’t have top teeth and said he was curious how cattle converted green grass to red meat.
The family soon moved to Platteville, where Matsushima joined 4-H and FFA, exhibiting cattle each summer at the fair. It was there he met the Monfort family.
Matsushima recalls one summer at the Weld County Fair as Kenny Monfort’s market beef class was about the enter the ring. Matsushima said Kenny’s dad, Warren, was looking for his son and asked Matsushima if he knew where he was. Even just days before his 100th birthday, Matsushima giggled and said he told Monfort that, “sure I know where he is, he’s under the grandstand reading a comic book.” Monfort, who was about ten years younger than Matsushima, went on to have a storied career as a cattle feeder.
It was in the show ring that Matsushima was able to earn scholarships to attend what was then Colorado A & M to earn his bachelor’s degree and Masters degree. When Matsushima was a junior in college, he said the anti-Japanese sentiments were broad, even in Fort Collins. The landlady he rented a basement room from came to him, he said, telling him a war had been declared. In the coming days signs went up on the doors of businesses barring Japanese people from entry. Each Saturday night under the cover of darkness, some of his classmates would bring Matsushima groceries. The local shoe store was another business that refused to serve Japanese customers. Matsushima said he wore the same shoes for two years, mending the soles himself. He remained lifelong friends with the classmates who brought him groceries.
At the time, Colorado A & M wasn’t one of the four universities in the country to offer a doctorate degree program in animal science. He earned his degree at the University of Minnesota in 1949 and took a teaching job in Nebraska.
While there, Warren Monfort heard about the research Matsushima was conducting including the use of beef tallow in rations, the use of Aureomycin to prevent liver abscess in feedlot cattle, the value of dehydrated alfalfa in feedlot rations, the value of silages in feedlot rations, and the value of bonemeal and limestone in feedlot rations. Of particular interest to Monfort, he said, were studies on the carcass similarities between beef steers and dairy steers.
“When Mr. Monfort found out the results of my research, he bought a bunch of Holstein steers and put them way back in the back of the feedlot where people couldn’t see them,” he said, chuckling.
Monfort, he said, brought a carload of cattle feeders to Nebraska to witness Matsushima’s research in person. He was eventually convinced to return to Colorado in 1961 and he accepted a position at Colorado State University teaching, researching, and working in extension. Over his years in the classroom, he maintained records of each student and the list eventually reached 10,000. Many of his former students, he said, have been successful within the cattle industry in their own right. Matsushima maintains an office on the CSU campus even now.
It was in Nebraska one morning at breakfast that he conceived the idea for steam flaked grain, a discovery that changed the cattle feeding industry. Matsushima said he and three “Before I came back to Colorado, I used to meet with three of the largest cattle feeders- Mr. (Warren) Monfort, Mr. (Louis) Dinklage of Nebraska and Mr. (Earl) Brookover of Kansas,” he said. “At that time, ham and bacon and eggs were pretty common for breakfast but that morning, somehow they decided to have cereal. While we were having cereal, I thought by gosh, we ought to feed a hot meal to cattle, and that’s when I got the idea of steam flaked corn and that became one of the highlights of the cattle feeding industry. It made the cost of feeding 10 percent cheaper and more efficient.”
Matsushima made several trips to Japan as a consultant, where he said cattle feeding looks different from the US as cattle are fed in small groups in the mountains. The Japanese feedlot ration, he said, is similar to rations utilized stateside though rice straw is utilized rather than corn silage or alfalfa hay, though a great deal of alfalfa hay is imported from the US. Frequent rains necessitate shelters and sawdust is used for bedding. Matsushima said he admires the perseverance of Japanese cattle feeders. Matsushima also conducted research to compare breeds of cattle from Korea, China, Australia, and the US and said he learned quite a bit. Wagyu cattle used in Japan to produce Kobe beef are fed an average of 12 months, he said, compared to the five months most American cattle spend on feed.
During his career, Matsushima traveled to Canada, Italy, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Mexico. He made multiple trips to Japan and China over his career and has been credited with establishing and encouraging the beef market in both countries.
In addition to steam flaked corn, a mobile feed mixing unit is another contribution that took the cattle feeding industry from feeding with shovels to feeding with trucks, first manufactured by Harsh in Eaton, Colorado, in 1965. Designed by Harsh, a prototype was delivered to the CSU Beef Research Center for Matsushima’s use to thoroughly mix supplements in rations once the amounts required outgrew the concrete mixer he had been utilizing. The prototype was run off a PTO and was eventually replaced with a truck-mounted unit now popular across the world.
Other research findings widely used in the cattle feeding industry include ideal roughage to concentrate rations on a dry matter basis, the estrogenic effects of alfalfa in a ration when used with diethylstilbesterol (DES), gains in bulls compared to steers, the effect of DES implanted in bulls, cattle grub control through use of a pour-on, feedlot gains through use of an estradiol preparation commercially available as Synovex, the feed efficiency in single and double implanted cattle, the benefits of liquid protein concentrate widely available in sugar beet-producing areas, the added efficiency of feedlot heifers through the use of Melengestrol Acetate (MGA), increased gains as a result of sarsoponin, added profit as a result of backgrounding cattle prior to placement in the feedlot, the added feed efficiency as a result of fed Rumensin, a commercial product containing monensin, gain and feed efficiency gains in feedlot heifers through a combination of MGA and Rumensin, daily gain increases as a result of the use of dry distillers grains, and the most beneficial time to implant calves, among others.
Matsushima has joked that because of his height, which is about five feet, he never utilized the top half of the blackboard in his lecture halls, making janitors happy. His sunny outlook is a common thread among his former students, including Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association.
“If his globally recognized accomplishments weren’t enough, Dr. John Matsushima is doing something that very likely few of us will get to enjoy and that is to celebrate our 100th birthday,” he said. “We have all heard the word “giant” used to describe those who have contributed in a positive way to an industry or a cause for the betterment of mankind. Even though he is short in stature, Dr. Matsushima is a true giant in the livestock industry. His vision, passion and curiosity are all qualities that enabled him to move the cattle industry forward for the better part of a century. Those of us who know him and took his Feeds and Feeding class at Colorado State University will be forever grateful.”
Steve Gabel, who grew up in near Matsushima’s hometown, said he and his peers were likely unable to understand the full scope of Matsushima’s contributions as young students, but as a longtime cattle feeder, he has no doubt.
“The impact he had as a result of his research has transformed the cattle feeding industry into what it is today,” Gabel said. “He’s the one who perfected steam flaking grains and although that was a damn long time ago, I’m not sure of anything that has been as impactful on our efficiencies as what Dr. Matsushima brought to the table.”
Gabel, who owns Magnum Feedyard in Wiggins, took a nutrition class from Matsushima at Colorado State University in the mid 1970s. He said Matsushima was an outstanding teacher, able to relate to his students, but said his skills as a researcher were even greater.
Randy Blach also recalls classes with Dr. Matsushima at CSU in the late 1970s and 1980. Blach, who is the CEO of CattleFax, said Matsushima checks in with his office annually to update his data files and stay abreast of Blach’s market trend predictions.
“His class was one of those that no one wanted to miss,” Blach said. “He was such an engaging instructor and so passionate about what he teaches. I would say one of the things that has always struck me about Dr. Matsushima is not only being a world-renowned scientist but I think his greatest contribution is the passion he instilled in his students and anyone he came in contact with.”
Blach said Matsushima created a desire in him to be a lifelong learner and said though his contributions are vast, he finds it incredible that so many generations were touched by one teacher. The list of his former students who went on to be successful in the cattle industry is a long one, he said.
“You have to remember that in the 70s, the cattle feeding industry was developing into the southern and central Plains region of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado so his technology, if you think back, was one of the reasons we saw some of these areas that weren’t as close to the source of the feed that were able to be competitive because of the efficiencies that allowed them to be competitive in the market,” Blach said. “He’s one of a kind. Our industry is so much better because of the technologies he brought and, maybe more so, from being a teacher and a lifelong learner and mentor for so many of us. He’s just phenomenal. He left his mark and those will never be forgotten in this industry.”
Chuck Sylvester, who was a longtime general manager of the National Western Stock Show, recalls working with Matsushima during the fed beef contest. The cattle in the contest, he said, were evaluated on the rail at the former Swift and Pepper Packing Companies.
“He is a man in the industry that commanded so much respect just because of his upbeat attitude, smile, and his willingness to teach people,” he said. “He is patient and has all those great attributes that make a great professor.”
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