Hughes Cattle Co. of Bartlesville, OK -- owned and operated by John and Robert Hughes -- has been named National Stocker Award (NSA) winner for 2006.

When BEEF magazine established the NSA program -- sponsored by Elanco Animal Health -- the idea was fairly simple: identify and recognize the top stocker operators in the nation, and showcase what enables them to thrive in this high-risk business. Easier said than done.

An evaluation committee representing private industry and academics, along with specialists in stocker health, stocker nutrition and stocker economics, sifted through nominees from 15 states.

Competition was divided into three categories: Backgrounding/drylot stocker (feed-based), Fall/winter stockering (forage-based), and Summer stockering (forage-based). A single winner was chosen in each category, and then the overall NSA winner was selected from these finalists.

The Hughes operation -- John bought his first stockers in 1958 -- was named winner of the Summer category en route to the overall title. From the very beginning, this operation has focused on grass production first and foremost to increase carrying capacity. The operation remains grounded in commonsense basics but also continues to innovate, as with a unique pilot study they're conducting with a livestock market owner and feedlot: each entity shares equal ownership in cattle then divvies any profit or loss equally at the end.

Triple Heart Ranch at Wanette, OK, was the finalist in the Backgrounding/drylot category. Besides providing custom backgrounding for others, along with running some of their own cattle, owners, Brock and Shelia Karges have pioneered a service to help cow-calf producers realize added value from providing additional animal health assurance.

Doug Rogers, who owns and operates D&H Cattle Co. at Collins, MS, was named the finalist in the Fall/winter stockering category. He chose the stocker business because he saw more business opportunity in it than with any of the enticing corporate offers that came his way after graduating from West Point and business school. He uses lightweight calves and aggressive health management as a hedge in the marketplace.

As overall winners, Hughes Cattle Company will receive $10,000 cash from Elanco Animal Health, along with an expenses-paid trip to the 2007 National Cattlemen's Association Convention.

Triple Heart and D&H each receive a $2,500 cash prize from Elanco.

You can read about the NSA winners in the October issue of BEEF. As well, the profiles will appear in the next few issues of Stocker Trends.