Retaining ownership isn't an easy option for millions of small-volume producers who want to benefit from this value-added practice. Often, they don't have the numbers to fill a pen and, like Iowa custom feeder Randy Rigdon, cattle aren't their only business. Where do they look for help?

Some 300 producers, investors and feeders have found the answer in a five-year-old cooperative called BEIFF (Benton and Eastern Iowa Farmer Feeders) based near Blairstown, IA.

Rigdon joined BEIFF five years ago, and served on its board for two years. "BEIFF basically gives smaller-sized producers a bigger voice by working together," says Rigdon, who has a 350-head custom feedlot. "It acts as a go-between for me and the owner of the cattle. I use the BEIFF coop to find investors, keep records and provide feedback on how to change rations to best meet the nutritional needs of the cattle."

Here's how it works. Office manager Pam Behounek puts data on the cattle into the computer, figures breakevens and cost of gain and calculates shrink. Fieldman Russ Brandt visits the yard weekly, picks up feed records and checks the cattle. The data goes into the computer, projected rations are calculated and recommendations made so cattle move at optimum performance rates.

A unique part of the BEIFF program is that it guarantees cost of gain. "That raises a lot of eyebrows," general manager Wayne Newton admits. "But if a feeder stays with the budget and we have a good description on the cattle, we won't miss that cost objective by a penny a pound. As a result, we price cattle differently for different producers. We know what kind of cattle he/she deals with."

When cattle are ready for market, Behounek calls packer buyers, tells the owner what was bid, based on live or hot carcass weight. The decision is then made when to sell.

When cattle go to market, they're weighed at the lot and payweights taken at the packing plant. The packer issues the check made in the name of the BEIFF Coop with owner/feeder identification. All data goes to the owner and feeder of the cattle.

For more information on BEIFF call 800/472-0675.