As Reeve Cattle Company renovates and expands, it's made small improvements that have meant big payoffs in handling ease and worker safety.

For more than 30 years, Reeve Cattle Company has concentrated on continual improvement of every feedyard function. That's especially true with animal handling.

"Basically, there are three points where cattle handling is most important," owner Lee Reeve says. "That's processing, treatment and shipping."

>From its roots in the farmer-feeder segment 30 years ago, the Garden City, KS, operation has grown to be a 30,000-head private feedlot. As business has grown, additions have been made. In fact, within the past three years the yard's been virtually rebuilt.

As the yard expanded, Reeve says it became evident that the former load-out facilities couldn't handle the increased volume of cattle. He looked at several feedyards and spent some time with Temple Grandin of Grandin Livestock Systems to determine the most feasible route. Grandin designed a double load-out facility with curved pens, solid sides, a 70-ft. scale and herringbone concrete loading pens.

"Since we only build a load-out facility every decade or two, we looked long and hard before jumping on to one design. This one is working well," Reeve says. "We're loading cattle quickly, moving them as naturally as possible."

Today, up to 1,000 head per day are shipped out with just three people working the cattle. Reeve says the design is optimum for cattle movement and for the people working the cattle. Plus, it's uncomplicated.

"A lot of this is the result of a design that lets cattle flow naturally," Reeve says. "We worked with Temple Grandin because she focuses things through an animal's point of view. She's examined the ways cattle behave in certain situations and found the least resistant way to get it done.

"She also has a solid reputation and I've seen some of the facilities she's designed," he says.

Handling At Processing "Because this is a private feedyard and we own all our own cattle, we sort and size at processing," Reeve says. "This allows us to feed uniform lots of cattle to higher weights if needed and allows us to fill each pen to the desired capacity."

Today, you need facilities to direct the cattle where you want them to go. This includes wide alleys and three or more sorting pens in front of the squeeze chute, Grandin says.

"We've always focused a lot on safety," Reeve says. "Whether it's a processing area or a loading chute, it all needs to be safe. We've continued that focus by installing the right amount of walk-through gates, snap latches and related items."

It's not just the handling system that makes things work. It's the handling crew and handling procedures. Though the handling done at Reeve Cattle Company is gentle, it's done as quickly as it was before. No electric prods are used and a custom processing crew does the work.

After some checking, several high-quality crews were recommended. Reeve chose to go with Fred Armstrong of Laiken, KS.

"I knew as we expanded and the workload became greater, we needed to bring in a custom processing crew that focused on the quality of its processing and product administration," Reeve says.

Reeve and Armstrong agreed that electric prods wouldn't be used for processing.

"We kept track of the speed and quality and compared it to previous methods. As it turns out, we've learned you can do a lot without electric prods. Once we got rid of them, and with training, the crew quickly learned how to let cattle move at the same speed as before," he adds.

Even though electric prods were replaced with sorting flags (fiberglass rods with a flag on one end), an electric prod still sits in the corner for the one animal that refuses to cooperate.

"We let cattle move on their own and find their own way," Reeve says. "The facility design helps, but we're processing just as fast with the quiet approach instead of the 'ram and jam' method."

Cost for new processing areas vary widely depending on individual yard needs and other construction projects in the works.

A new setup can be cost effective, says Bill Saba, Ellis County Feedyard manager in Hayes, KS. He contracted for a new processing area with double loading chutes in the early 1990s. The package included a 25-ft. x 35-ft. insulated building with a 4-ft. stem wall, five receiving/shipping pens, three processing pens, all pipe construction and cemented surfaces. For 20,000-head capacity the cost hit $11/head. Total cost was slightly more than $220,000.

It's A Change In Philosophy "We often count nickels and dimes or how many cattle we stuff through the chute, rather than counting dollars and performance," Grandin says. "Using curved chutes, round crowd pens, good lighting and never filling a crowd pen more than 31/44 full, cattle will generally move pretty easily.

"Also, cover the sides of the squeeze chute, especially the back 31/44, and get rid of loose chains, shadows and anything that could distract the animals. Move smaller bunches, giving them room to turn. In some facilities it will be necessary to tie open the one-way backstop at the entrance between the tub and the single file chute," Grandin says.

It's a matter of looking at all the elements, Reeve adds. "Make sure you've got the proper lighting, the right door openings and so on."

Grandin says that while a policy on good animal handling is important, it's continued vigilance from the top that makes it truly work.

"Reeve has worked with his crew and trained them. He also makes sure procedures are followed," Grandin says. "If management relaxes vigilance, rough handling may return. The places that have good handling have management that backs the procedures all the way through."

Reeve says any improvement in performance comes back to their bottom line. "It's not rocket science. It's simply sitting back after years in the business, taking a fresh look and continually improving how we do things," he says.

For more information, access Grandin's website at www.grandin.com

The management and staff of Reeve Cattle Company in Garden City, KS, pride themselves on the operation's emphasis on cattle comfort and worker safety and efficiency. It's a team effort, says owner Lee Reeve.

Reeve says he depends on employees to regularly refine and update systems. For example, two feed trucks feed the 30,000 head three times a day. They load in 311/42 minutes and deliver 311/42 loads per hour. Working together, employees and Reeve developed a system over time where this efficiency was achieved.

"We've got great people and we make operating decisions using their input," Reeve says. "Through years of working to eliminate bottlenecks, we now operate with nine full-time equivalent people."

The operation is designed around climate conditions, soil type and cattle requirements. A 30-year history and many improvements has built a facility that has north-south bunk lines, 280 sq. ft. per head of space, 15- to 20-ft. aprons and welded steel construction. And, all functions and tasks operate on separate systems that weave together for overall efficiency, Reeve says.