John Tracy is a cattle feeder who likes dairy cattle. And this is not an uncommon combination these days in places where cattle feeders and dairy producers are neighbors.
Tracy’s feedyard is located in Buttonwillow, CA., just off Interstate 5 west of Bakersfield. This dairy rich region provides a steady supply of Holstein steer calves to a handful of feeders/backgrounders like Tracy who don’t mind seeing the black and white animals coming to the feedbunks.
"Oh I know, most self-respecting cattle feeders cringe at the thought of feeding Holsteins," says Tracy, partner in Buttonwillow Land and Cattle Co. "But, let me tell you something, they do really well for us – for a lot of reasons.
"These are very predictable cattle, both in terms of feeding performance and end-product traits," says Tracy. "They also have great dispositions, and once they come to us, the death loss is not at all what some people think."
But even more than their performance in the feedyard, cattle feeders appreciate dairy calves because of their steady year-round availability. Making up about half of Tracy’s feedyard mix, the Holsteins help keep pens full during times of the year when runs of beef-type calves slow to a trickle.
Tracy’s rations, as well, are not what one would consider conventional for a self-respecting feedyard. But he doesn’t care. His facility is located in the shadow of an enormous Frito-Lay chip plant. A steady supply of nutrient-rich processed and cooked corn and potato chips – waste and cull chips, test runs and by-products from the plant – are hauled to Tracy’s feedyard every day.
The mountains of chips are mixed with hay-based roughages and other local feeds – like cull carrots and tomatoes grown on nearby farms. Along with feedyard employee Armando Montoya, Tracy adjusts the rations based on the mix of feed products available day to day.
Tracy’s agreement with Frito-Lay stipulates he uses their unwanted product on an all-or-nothing basis. And because storage is out of the question, he must have cattle coming to the feed bunks every day. Of course, that’s what feeding cattle is all about.