“I never felt so sick in my entire life because I realized how far behind we were,” says Tom Gallery of the Gallery Ranch at Dewey, OK. He's remembering the winter of 2002 and a demonstration of management software that opened his eyes to what was possible when cattle data were collected and analyzed in a systematic way.

At the time, the Gallerys recorded information on note cards. “It wasn't until after the cattle were gone that we could tally up what had happened. We didn't have any real-time information,” explains Tom, who operates the stocker phase of the ranch with his brother Bill. Their father Dan moved the operation away from cows to stockers in the mid-1980s.

Also at the time, the Gallerys — winners of the drylot/backgrounding division in this year's National Stocker Award competition — owned every head walking through their stocker operation, chasing grass deals from South Texas to South Dakota.

The Gallerys' consulting veterinarian, Shaun Sweiger, led them to dramatic cost cutting: winnowing their medicine cabinet, implementing consistent treatment protocols — not switching products mid-treatment — and treating cattle only as many as three times.

“He broke us of medication overload,” Tom says. “Hands-off for a certain period of time after treatment was the biggest eye-opener; to realize they weren't going to die if we didn't give them another shot that day.”

Along the way, they also learned how devastating even a few calves persistently infected (PI) with bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) could be. They've tested every head on arrival for the past two years. By weeding out the BVD-PI calves, they figure they've cut mortality in half, sliced treatment cost by 40% and increased average daily gain by 0.25-0.75 lbs.

Soon after starting to work with Sweiger, the Gallerys began conducting commercial research trials that have paid for an extraordinary pen and alley renovation at their backgrounding facility. It was through this research that the Gallerys first worked with Bill Roser, manager of Wheeler Brothers Feedyard at Watonga, OK. Ultimately this led to discussions about how different segments of the industry might work together for the benefit of each.

“We were tired of risking everything we had every year by owning all of them,” Tom says.

These days, the Gallerys own a percentage of every head they backgound in a unique partnership with Joplin Regional Stockyards at Joplin, MO, and Wheeler Brothers Feedyard. Within the alliance, each entity is the other's customer. Along the way, they leverage their individual expertise, sharing risk and information, and ratcheting up efficiencies.

Now, the Gallerys concentrate on backgrounding calves that will be shipped straight to Wheeler Brothers or for additional growth on forage along the way. About nine months of the year, the Gallerys receive and ship two or three loads each week. Cattle will spend the first 28 days here in separate home groups — 20- to 60-acre traps — and then another three weeks or so in commingled groups and larger pastures.

“We still participate in the ownership, but we're not having to risk everything every day,” emphasizes Tom.

As for that software, the Gallerys began using it in 2003 to collect every nugget of data you can think of on every individual calf that runs through here.

“When we became computerized and started using that software, we could finally pay attention to the results we were getting because we had captured all this data in a systematic way,” explains Tom.

In short, if there's a question about how any one cattle or management variable is affecting another, they have the wherewithal to ferret out the information. Plus, they can compare their performance with that of other operations using the same data-management system.

“We're proud of where we are, who we've aligned ourselves with, and that we've been able to move forward,” says Tom. “We're excited about where we are and where we're positioned to go.”

Editor's Note: Visit www.nationalstockeraward.com for more on the Gallery Ranch operation.