Bledsoe Cattle Company recognized as 2020 Feedyard BQA Award winners
Years ago, a sign hung in Henry A. Bledsoe’s office that read, “The only way to move cattle fast, is slowly.” That lesson is one his son, Bob Bledsoe, carries with him today.
Bledsoe Cattle Company was named the 2020 Feedyard BQA Award winners at the recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association meeting.
Headquartered in Wray, Colo., the operation includes feeding, farming and backgrounding, and a stocker ranch in South Dakota. The Bledsoes said they value the BQA training program, implemented every three years onsite for all employees in addition to BQA training to contracted crews, including transporters.
It’s the employee buy-in that makes the BQA program important to the operation.
“We’ve got a great team here and what we do here, we couldn’t do without them,” said Grant Bledsoe, who owns and runs Bledsoe Cattle Company, alongside his father, Bob, and their families. “They take a lot of pride in the training and what we do on a daily basis on the operation.”
With the 8,000 head feedyard and farming operations in both Phillips and Yuma counties, they are able to purchase light calves — many from the same ranches Bob Bledsoe began purchasing from as a young man — to background on corn stalks and then grass. Cattle are then finished in the feedyard. The stocker operation in Harding County, South Dakota, is also used to background cattle for finishing in Wray, either at their own yard or other area feeders.
About 75 percent of the cattle purchased, Grant said, are purchased off the ranch from producers located primarily in states north of Wray, all from ranches that share similar vaccination protocols and strive for high performing genetics.
This production system requires extensive cattle handling and Grant said the team does so with the utmost pride and skill, no matter the task.
Bob’s parents, the late Henry A. and Lucile M., started the operation in Wray in partnership with Henry’s father in La Junta, Colo., in 1948. Lucile is now 98 years old and is sharp as a tack, he said.
One way the Bledsoes are connecting with those outside of agriculture, is welcoming to the ranch the bird watchers eager to see the Greater Prairie Chicken. Bob Bledsoe designed an educational program for the bird watchers, about 300 annually, who come from all across the country and others to observe the wildlife on the family’s ranch. It is a unique opportunity to address the audience who he said don’t come from agriculture backgrounds but are bright and excited to learn. He speaks to the group not only about the connection between ranching and wildlife habitat but about branding, GMOs, how the ranch utilizes byproducts like distiller’s grains and cornstalks to produce an edible, high quality protein and how manure and nutrient management works.
Becky Bledsoe, Bob’s wife, said judicious antibiotic use is a frequent concern of visitors and she said it’s a prime opportunity to shed light on the truths of production agriculture. In response to the question of methane that seems to be a perennial question, Bob said he approaches it with humor, sharing a cartoon cow that says, “Bird watchers fart, too.”
“It’s just the environment and production agriculture,” he said. “We get blamed for a lot of things that we’re innocent of. The big deal is handling the cattle right from the day we purchase them from ranches and every experience they have with us needs to be positive as much as possible.”
Gentle handling, conversion rates, and profit are all tied together, he said.
Libby Bigler, Colorado BQA Coordinator, he said, is integral to the success of the BQA program.
“She comes out and gives all of our employees training in Spanish and English,” he said. “There’s no dumb question anyone ever asks her, and she really does a fabulous job and is a great educator.”
Bigler said the Bledsoes are proactive in their approach to handling and participated in a BQA Feedyard Assessment, and carry their knowledge and training through all segments of their operation to ensure low stress handling and markedly reduced carcass bruising.
The last piece of the puzzle, he said, is BQAT training for transporters, which Bigler has taught for the drivers from across multiple states who haul cattle to the Bledsoe’s feed yard. Bob said it’s satisfying to watch the lightbulb come on for even the most experienced drivers.
The only other Colorado feedyard division winner was Magnum Feedyard in Wiggins, Colo., in 2017.
The National BQA Awards annually recognize outstanding beef and dairy operations in several categories. This year’s winners include the IX Ranch in Big Sandy, Mont., recognized as the 2020 BQA Cow-Calf Award winners; Boadwine Farms, Baltic, S.D., recognized as the 2020 BQA Farm Dairy Award winners; Western Video Marketers, recognized as the 2020 Marketer BQA Award winners; and Curt Pate, the 2020 BQA Educator Award winner.
Award winners are selected by a committee comprised of BQA certified representatives from universities, state beef councils, sponsors and affiliated groups, who assess nominations based on their demonstrated commitment to BQA practices, their service as leaders in the beef industry and their dedication to promoting the BQA message to grow consumer confidence.
Four National BQA Awards (Cow-Calf, Feedyard, Dairy and Marketer) are funded in part by the Beef Checkoff program with additional financial support provided by Cargill. The BQA Educator Award is funded in part by the Beef Checkoff program with additional financial support provided by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.