What is in this article?:
This is Part 4 of BEEF magazine’s continuing weekly serialization of consulting nutritionist Kenneth Eng’s upcoming book, “Started Small & Just Got Lucky,” a combination of an autobiography and a 50-year cattle industry history.
Consulting nutritionist Kenneth Eng’s book, “Started Small And Just Got Lucky,” will be released in September. It’s an entertaining and fascinating look at the icon’s career and a 50-year history of the U.S. beef industry, and is complemented with scores of Eng’s photos, anecdotes and poetry. You can order a book and learn more about the upcoming 2014 Kenneth & Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation Symposium, set for Sept. 18-19 at the Embassy Suites – Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX, by calling 210-226-9000 or clicking here.
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Return to A&M – Part-Time Teacher
In 1969, Dr. O. D. Butler, A&M department head of animal science, contacted me and asked if I would design and lecture the first class they planned to offer in the Feedlot Management Master’s Degree Program. It was to be a three-hour credit, graduate-level course, and he said I could schedule the lecture times so they wouldn’t interfere with my consulting. We agreed on my fee and I scheduled it for 7:30-9 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The problem of travel is never simple to and from College Station, TX. I finally settled on a routine of flying in and out of Austin, and driving a car from Austin to College Station. Because of the travel, it turned out to be more work than I anticipated, but it was enjoyable and fulfilling.
Dr. Lowell Schake was on the A&M staff and had done a lot of the ground work on the overall master’s degree program so I was spared most of the paperwork and bureaucracy. Lowell later became department head of animal science at Texas Tech and I believe he is now retired in Corpus Christi and writing books.
I was blessed with a lot of good graduate students in these classes. At the time, A&M had the students rate classes for quality and content, and my class was fortunate to get top ratings both semesters I lectured. In later years, Bill Mies taught the class, and I understand that due to his efforts, it continued to be very popular.
The second semester I taught at A&M, I kept a room at the Ramada Inn on the corner of the campus and Highway 6. At that time the Aggies didn’t have a good football team, and the joke was the sign out front that said Highway 6 – Texas A&M 0. Times have definitely changed.
I liked the Ramada Inn location because it was close to campus, had one of the few private clubs in town, the Camelot Club, and the Bank of A&M was across the street. My future wife Caroline was working at the Bank of A&M and I first met her one day when cashing a check. The airline had lost my luggage, and I was to give a talk later that night. I asked her where I might buy some clothes. She said, “It’s almost bank closing time, and if you’d like. I’ll take you to a clothing store.” It was an invitation I couldn’t refuse.
We became good friends, and when my teaching appointment was over, she said, “Kenneth, someday I am going to marry you.” Like John Wayne, I said, “That’ll be the day.” I didn’t see her for almost two decades, but 18 years later, when I was once again single, she called from Houston. After a brief conversation, she asked what I was doing. I said, “Not much. There’s a late flight to Houston Hobby, and I’ll be on it.” She met me at the gate and it was a storybook beginning to a 22-year ride of a lifetime.
’70s Consulting – Texas Style
The cattle feeding industry in Texas, especially the Panhandle, began growing in the early 1960s, and then experienced spectacular growth in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Much of this was fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit and “can do” attitude. Perhaps the biggest driver was the advent of hybrid grain sorghum in the late ’50s, which resulted in surplus grain sorghum, or milo, in many parts of Texas.
Before this, milo was often shipped to the Panhandle with the price determined by the Panhandle price less freight from wherever it was produced. Other factors included a strong Texas Cattle Feeders Association, which was located in Amarillo, and the advent of tax and investor feeding. There were also lots of Texas and Southeast calves and wheat pasture yearlings. Keep in mind that the distance-hauling of grain or calves wasn’t a big item at that time due to low fuel prices. It was easy to put wheels under your commodity and ship it long distances.
In many ways, the heyday of the Texas and Southern Plains cattle feeding industry was a boom time rivaling that of the gold rush in California and Alaska and the early oil industry in Texas and Oklahoma. One of my favorite George Strait songs is “Amarillo by Morning,” but “Amarillo by evening” during that time was more exciting. Every commercial plane to Amarillo was full of cattle people or those in allied industries. The motels, restaurants and clubs were full. It wasn’t unusual for large business transactions to be consummated on a restaurant or club napkin. Many of those deals hung together better than some of the later sophisticated ones. It has been my experience that, if you use good judgment, a cattleman’s word is his bond; however, beware of people who require complicated contracts and everything signed in triplicate.
Time, space and poor memory don’t allow me to cover all my clients in this book. Many of the events I discussed are the more exciting and humorous ones. This doesn’t mean the business was all excitement and humor, but I’ll spare you from most of the negative or boring stories.
One of my first clients was Producers Grain Corporation (PGC) of Amarillo. They were the world’s largest buyer and handler of milo, and they were interested in feedlots not only as investment but also as a way to expand milo usage. They first built a 25,000- to 30,000-head feed yard west of Plainview, TX, in ’69 or ’70, and later another one about 30 miles west of Amarillo. Moody Taylor was their manager.
At one time, he had managed both south and west Texas feed yards and also traded a lot of cattle. Moody was a clever and sometimes mysterious fellow. Regardless, he was the kind of person you would want on your side if you got in real trouble.
PGC also had a feed company, and they wanted me to hire a nutritionist for their feed division that could eventually work into the feedyard nutrition business. I suggested Ray Hinders and they subsequently had a long association until Ray decided to move to California and take up independent dairy consulting.
PGC also planned a partnership with the Shah of Iran on an Iranian feed yard, but the project never got off the ground. Just before it was planned to begin, the Shah was thrown out and the Ayatollah had other interests. No one wanted to do business with him anyway.
Originally, they wanted me to go to Iran on the preliminary project. I refused because it was a one-month trip and I didn’t have the time to spare. I told the PGC man in charge that I wouldn’t be going, and he said, “You have to go because we’ve already put your name in, and they’ve accepted it.” I replied, “Why don’t you send Ray Hinders because he’s your employee.”
We finally agreed that I would fill out the application required, then when it was time to go, I would be ill and they would send Ray in my place. I filled out a complicated application and then signed another form and asked their Amarillo secretary to type and submit it.
When I came back to PGC a month later, the Iranian project leader met me at the door and saying, “Who the hell do you think you are? Nobody gets that kind of consulting fee.” I had asked for $500 per day plus expenses and the secretary mistakenly typed in $5,000 per day. In the end it didn’t make any difference because the project crashed when the Shah was overthrown.