Padlock Ranch Wins BQA Award
Photos Courtesy of Padlock Ranch
Spread out over 500,000 acres, 11,000 calves a year are born and raised on the Wyoming and Montana ranges. Headquartered out of Dayton, Wyo., the ranch has exceptional beef quality assurance practices, which earned them the 2012 BQA Award.
Over 50 years ago, Padlock Ranch was started in Wyoming by Homer and Mildred Scott. At its inception in 1943, the ranch consisted of 3,000 acres and 300 cows. Now the ranch has grown in size and scope, but the goals of the operation are the same.
“Padlock composite cattle currently fit the environment well here, and also perform/grade well for the feeding/packer segment. The ranch will continue to ensure that this is true. The varied family ownership will provide challenges as all of the needs of the stakeholders are met. The ranch will continue to be a leader in the environmentally sound management of its land. As price/cost pressures will probably always exist, the ranch will look for non-consumptive sources of income,” said Wayne Fahsholtz, President and CEO of Padlock Ranch.
Being selected as the BQA winner is an honor for the ranch. “It was an honor to be selected by NCBA. I am very proud of the Beef Industry and our peers within the industry. We have made vast improvements in telling our story to our consumers, but we still have a lot of work to do. Having traveled to ranches in numerous parts of the U.S., I know how good of a job ranchers do, so it is humbling to have been chosen for this,” he said.
The calves at the ranch are born in May and June, and are weaned in the fall, where they go into Padlock’s feedlot. The calves are then grown on silage and hay that is produced on the farm until they are yearlings, and then they go into one of four markets.
“In the spring, calves will enter one of the following marketing strategies: placed on feed in a finishing yard (retained ownership), sold as yearlings, placed on grass as stocker cattle or placed on a finishing program in Padlock’s feedlot. In recent years, the majority of feeder cattle have been marketed through Country Natural Beef (CNB). In this program, Padlock retains ownership of the cattle until after slaughter. Country Natural Beef then markets the meat directly to retailers and restaurants. The proceeds received for the cattle depend on their ability to meet quality specifications set forth by the CNB Cooperative,” said Fahsholtz.
He continued, “For us, being in the Natural programs is about marketing opportunities. With Country Natural Beef, the main incentive is a stable guaranteed price. CNB offers a program that really reduces price risk and this fits our goals for risk reduction. Meyer Natural Angus Beef offers premiums to offset the cost of having natural cattle. By being in specific programs like these, we can management our input costs with the end in mind.”
The ranch uses a unique crossbreeding system to produce the highest quality cattle they can. “In the late 1980s, the Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center did several studies about composite breeding. The results were intriguing because it gave large range operations options for crossbreeding without having to have specific breeding pastures.
This allowed for a less complex breeding program while still attaining a large amount of heterosis. Originally, we used Hereford, Angus, Simmental and Gelvieh. That is still the goal, but it is harder to find that exact composite now. We try to use a four way composite that is about 50 percent continental and 50 percent English,” he said.
The ranch also has a special program for their heifers. “We choose our heifers based upon anticipated cow size and conformation. We AI to Wagyu bulls. We only breed for one cycle, so that we are also indirectly selecting for fertility. Our goal is to have 60 percent bred in this cycle. The balance are sold as feeder heifers. With this system, it is important that we keep our heifer growing costs at a level that we can still have a profitable feeder heifer in the fall. We winter out our heifers as much as possible,” Fahsholtz said.
The ranch is focused on production and profit, but not at the expense of cutting corners. “Padlock Ranch is a profit driven business, which places importance on environmental stewardship, community support both local and the broader community and hiring/developing excellent people. A foundational goal is to use Best Management Practices throughout the life of an animal to enhance performance, health, beef quality, and ultimately profitability,” he said.
He added, “We take a systems approach in developing and implementing these management practices and have coupled these practices with our marketing plan. The process begins with people. To begin, we emphasize and train our staff to be good at animal handling. In the last eight years, we have held on the ranch two Bud Williams clinics and one clinic with Dillon Biggs out of Canada. Our employee handbook mandates low stress animal handling techniques be used and this also becomes part of annual evaluations for employees that work with livestock.”
The handling goes beyond cattle handling. “We also stress that animals not be restricted from feed or water. We have implemented a planned, timed controlled grazing system that keeps animals moving during the year to fresh feed and water. Consulting and practicing veterinarians are brought in two times per year to work with employees and management in the areas of vaccine use, vaccine administration and handling, disease diagnosis and treatment and post mortem analyses. All shots are given in the neck area of the animal. In addition, we meet with state veterinarians in Wyoming and Montana frequently to discuss health issues facing the industry,” he said.
The ranch moved from earlier calving to calving in May and June seven years ago, to help cut feed costs. “This system has lowered winter feed costs and has also allowed us to calve cattle on green grass. Forage and water samples are collected strategically throughout the year and custom supplements are designed to support production and health,” Fahsholtz said.
The ranch also keeps detailed records of each animal on the place through electronic ID. “Performance and health records are collected and retained in software programs. We use both hand-held wands and a panel reader to collect ID data. Records for calves include weight, origin, first possible birth date, weaning date, processing protocols, shipping date, disease diagnosis and treatment protocols,” he said.
The management of the Padlock Ranch allows the cattle to be managed through yearlings, and then 60 percent of the cattle are retained through either slaughter or replacement.
“We believe that these approaches not only yield more profitability, but they also yield more consistent beef. Results of our practices have indeed increased the profit and resulted in healthier animals,” he said.
Being a leader in BQA is important to the Padlock Ranch, for several reasons. “It is the right thing to do for many reasons. First, it helps us assure our customers that our product is safe and has been cared for properly throughout its life. Second, the practices will also make the ranch more sustainable and profitable,” said Fahsholtz.
The ranch helps encourage other producers to implement BQA programs though four steps:
• Leading by example
• Being proactive advocates of BQA practices to their customers, business associates, and the larger community that they deal with regularly
• Continue to tell the story through lectureships, symposiums, and publications to reach those in the industry
• To be active in industry through NCBA, Wyoming Stock Growers, Montana Stock Growers, and others.
Fahsholtz is a firm believer in the future of the beef industry. “I believe that the future is bright. All of agriculture will be challenged to meet the food demands that are predicted by 2050. There are many hurdles that we will face, such as drought, public/social attacks, such as anti-meat agendas, and market disruptions. If we are proactive and let our customers know how we produce their food, I believe that we will have their support,” he said.
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