Grant Bledsoe is eyeball deep in a business into which not many young people are venturing these days — or so we hear. At 25, this Wray, CO, stockman is a full-fledged partner in the family cattle business.
Bledsoe Cattle Co. is a farming, feeding and stocker operation that's been located in Colorado since 1948. It's a family partnership with his dad, Bob, and grandfather, Henry — who at 81 still beats Grant to the feedyard every morning.
The feedyard finishes 18,000 head of cattle each year. And while the Bledsoes don't run a cowherd, they buy and graze stocker calves on ranches near Wray and in Harding County, SD.
Most of the calves they buy come out of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Montana. The Bledsoes try to buy calves in the fall at 400-500 lbs. They're then backgrounded on corn stalks through the winter and go to grass in the spring.
For Grant, coming back to the operation after getting a degree in farm and ranch management from Colorado State University had always been the plan. Now, he travels around the region buying calves, helping run the feedyard, while still learning the ins and outs of the beef business. He's also an active member of the Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) and sits on the Colorado Beef Quality Assurance Council.
BEEF: What makes you different from other cattle feeders and stocker operators in your area?
Bledsoe: We grow all of our own feed — that's a big advantage. Also, with our farm ground and ranches we can cheapen our gains outside the feedlot. That's how we can compete with the big feedyards — especially with fluctuations in the price of feed or when feed is expensive. We can compete because we function based on the production costs of our corn.
BEEF: You feed mostly “high-quality” cattle — mostly English breeds, 85-90% of which are black-hided. Are you participating in any alliances or marketing programs?
Bledsoe: No, we haven't gotten into any formal marketing alliances. The majority of our cattle are sold to Excel — they're the major buyer in this area. We've got them as a market, and we can't be shopping around, making them wonder where our loyalty lies. We'd like to see more competition, though, and it's good to see other possibilities out there. It's good for everybody.
BEEF: A lot of your cattle must go into Excel's premium branded programs. Do you see anything coming back to you in terms of added revenue?
Bledsoe: Yes, a big portion of our cattle does go into Certified Angus Beef, Angus Pride and Excel's Sterling Silver products. We sell some cattle on the grid as well as cash, so we do get premiums for our better cattle. I think it comes back to the industry as a whole, too, in that it greatly increases the demand for our beef products. It's certainly the way the industry has to move.
BEEF: Do you have a strategic plan for your feeding and stocker operation?
Bledsoe: Our ultimate goal is to stay profitable in this business. To do that, we'll continue to expand gradually — including the ranching and farming ends of our operation.
We're open to getting into alliances with cow/calf producers — including genetic alliances. We're kind of doing that by default already — we've been buying calves from some of these ranches for more than 10 years. We work together by sharing information to make their cattle more valuable to us and to our customer, the packer.
We're checking into some sorting programs to help us get calves into more uniform lots. Ultrasound might be a part of it — integrated with other sorting and feeding technology.
BEEF: What are the challenges you see out there in the country?
Bledsoe: First, we have to get a handle on the market situation and what we are going to do for the year — marketing-wise. The last few months have not been pretty for us. The price of fed cattle is a real obstacle — and everyone is asking questions about how and why we're in this situation. We have to keep our feedyard full, though. We have very dedicated employees, and we just can't lay them off and shut this place down when things get tough.
With the price we paid for calves last fall — and now we're wondering what we were thinking… But, they're good cattle, and we're going to make the best of the situation. We're not going to change our operation based on one bad year, even if it takes a few years to get it back.
Beyond that, the increasing environmental pressure is something we all face. For family operations, it's tough to deal with on a day-to-day basis. We're good stewards, and we take pride in having an operation that meets or exceeds all the regulations of manure and wastewater management.
BEEF: It is hard to talk to a rancher or a feeder these days and not ask about the checkoff.
Bledsoe: We're in favor of the checkoff. In Colorado our beef council is doing great things to promote beef. I don't have one ounce of apprehension in paying that money.
BEEF: You're in this business for the long haul?
Bledsoe: Yep, I'm planning on staying in the cattle business for life. There's a lot to learn though, and I really depend on my family and the people we do business with to learn what it takes to make this thing work.