Want to keep producers informed about what the weather is doing at the feedlot where their cattle are being fed? Need to introduce the staff to your feeding clients? Looking for ways to promote your feedyard to potential customers?

Instead of communicating via mail or over the phone, a growing number of feeders are providing customer service through their own homepage on the Internet. It's just one more way of keeping customers in the know in the 21st century.

One of the premiere feedyard Web sites is that of AzTx Cattle Co., Hereford, TX. The address is www.aztx.com. The site was launched more than three years ago, according to AzTx president John Josserand, who says they put the homepage on the Web on faith.

"We wanted to be at the forefront of the industry, but we really didn't know if people would visit the site," he says.

Today, Josserand says he knows customers are visiting AzTx online, and his goal is to continue to offer those customers interactive services on the Internet.

"You can't put a demographic to who is using the site because it's a variety of age groups and customers with varying needs," Josserand says.

The AzTx site currently offers weather information specific to its five feedyards, a locator map, links to other beef industry sites and the opportunity for customers to give feedback. Most recently, AzTx has added staff photos and job descriptions to their site so customers can put a name with a face or see who to contact for a specific question.

Bejot Feed Lots at Ainsworth, NE, also serves customers on-line at their site www.bejot feedlots.com. Tom Bejot put the site together himself 11/2 years ago. His primary goal was to build awareness of their cattle feeding operation.

He reports that they get several inquiries from cattle buyers and commercial producers who are looking at different feedyards on line. To help send traffic to his site, Bejot registered with several search engines and has gotten free listings on commercial sites that compile feedlot directories.

An Education Tool Jason Hitch of Hitch Enterprises, Guymon, OK, has found their homepage at www.hitchok.com is a useful teaching tool for customers.

Hitch says they launched their site in 1997 as another method of advertising their feedlot operations. But, the site also has been a good way to provide customers and the general public with information on retained ownership, cattle feeding in general, shipping and receiving methods and other basic information, he says.

"It's surprising to us that many people that raise cattle haven't fed cattle, and therefore may not know a lot about feeding cattle," Hitch says. "By putting general information on our Web site, we hope we can help them learn in the privacy of their own home or office."

Hitch says they hope to continue adding educational information to their site, as well as add regular news features to keep the site current.

An Interactive Future For many, the challenge is to keep their Internet presence alive. For Josserand, that means making the site more interactive in the future.

Currently, the only interactive portion of the AzTx site is a mileage finder, which allows producers to calculate freight charges from their location to the feedyard.

"Our future goal is to do all paperwork - feed bills, animal performance, etc. - over the Internet," he says.

Bejot and Hitch have similar goals. Both hope to eventually transfer livestock and billing data to customers weekly through password-protected access for each client. Bejot's even considering some e-commerce options that would allow opportunities for outside investors.

"I really see everyone doing business over the Internet," Josserand says. He realizes there are still people who don't like computers and don't use them, but he also knows computers aren't going to go away.

Hitch says, particularly in the competitive feeding industry, he sees Web sites as an integral part of feeders' future. "With the amount of feeding capacity available and fewer customers over the past few years, we have to communicate better with our customers," he says.

Kathy Cornett, president of McCormick Advertising, Amarillo, TX, agrees. Cornett, who was one of the driving forces in helping AzTx launch their site, says she thinks everyone will have a Web site in the future.

"At this point, there's a lot of inquiry from feeders about having a Web site. But feeders also are concerned as to whether or not their customers are online and have access," Cornett says.

Cornett says most feedyard sites are currently electronic brochures to communicate with current and prospective customers. But, she has a vision that the future offers much more potential.

"We even dream about having a camera mounted on the feed truck so producers can watch their cattle being fed," Josserand says. That's too expensive to do right now, he adds, but there's always the possibility.

To get a sample of feeders on the Web, visit these sites: www.aztx.com www.tcfa.org/feedyard.html www.bejotfeedlots.com www.hitchok.com