When Bob McCan, incoming president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), was just a kid, one of his yearly highlights was helping his father and grandfather ship cattle from the railroad pens behind the small town of McFaddin, south of Victoria, TX. Nobody then could possibly imagine, as the 2- and 3-year-old steers clattered up the ramp into the wooden railcars headed for the terminal market in Fort Worth or pasture in Kansas, how much the industry would change in the 50 years hence.

In fact, with a few exceptions, things were pretty much the same since McCan’s great-great-grandfather, for whom the small town of McFaddin is named, bought the South Texas ranch in 1877 with money made from financing the storied trail drives north to Kansas. But even in young Bob McCan’s time, in the dust and commotion of the railroad shipping pens, the exceptions foretold of changes to come; the cattle were a Hereford-Brahman cross known as the Victoria Braford — the result of a planned, systematic crossbreeding system his grandfather put in place when planned crossbreeding was not a ranch-house word.

“I feel pretty fortunate to get just a little of that history, being a part of it when I was a child,” McCan says. “It was pretty spectacular for me to be able to see that and then watch where we’ve progressed.”

NCBA President Bob McCanHow the beef industry changed in the 50-some years since the last railcar of steers rolled out of McFaddin is indeed nothing short of spectacular. And even though now, just as back then, no one can possibly imagine the changes and challenges yet in store for cattle producers, McCan’s history tells him to get ready, because the velocity of change and challenge will most certainly increase.

 

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He’s seen that change happen in his own operation. McFaddin Enterprises now includes two family-owned ranches and a third leased operation. The combined acreage supports 3,000-5,000 Braford cows, depending on Mother Nature. And he’s seen changes happen in the industry: from the handwritten tally sheets of railcar counts to the computers and smartphones that are his constant companions today.

It’s the juxtaposition of that change and challenge, history and the future that provides the base from which the fifth-generation cow-calf producer will lead the industry in 2014 as NCBA president.