G-Three Cattle Co., Thomas Cattle Buying Services are Runners-up
Hollinger Cattle Co.—Leo and Jeannie Hollinger—at Camden, AL is the winner of the 2009 National Stocker Award (NSA).

The NSA was established in 2006 by BEEF Magazine and Elanco Animal Health to underscore the integral role of the stocker sector and to recognize the top operations within that sector. Each year, stocker and backgrounding operations from across the nation are nominated for the prestigious award.

G-Three Cattle Co. of Uniontown, KS and Thomas Cattle Buying Services of Williston, FL were named runners-up in what the selection committee termed a field of nominees rich in commitment and creativity employed to grow quality, healthy cattle for the next phase of production.

Along with the recognition, Hollinger Cattle Co. receives $5,000 cash provided by Elanco Animal Health, as well as an expense-paid trip to this year’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in San Antonio. G-Three Cattle Co. and Thomas Cattle Buying Services each receive $1,000 cash.

You can read some of the specifics about each of these operations here. For complete coverage, see the October issue of BEEF magazine in your mailbox or at www.beefmagazine.com. For more information about the contest, see www.nationalstockeraward.com.

National Stocker Award Winner:
Hollinger Cattle Company Always Finds New Opportunity

“What I like to do most is grow grass and graze cattle,” says Leo Hollinger, Jr., of Camden, AL. “My passion has always been to put light calves on grass and grow them to heavier weights.”

His grandpa, Fleet Hollinger, was the first in the family to see potential in growing cattle here in the timber country of Alabama. It was during the Great Depression. With a wife, three kids and some ground, Hollinger's grandfather figured his best opportunity was buying lightweight calves and adding weight to them. This core philosophy put Leo's dad and two uncles through college.

Hollinger and his wife, Jeannie, who comprise Hollinger Cattle Company, utilized the same opportunity to raise and put their own children through college.

Though the primary business of adding weight to cattle continues, Leo explains preserving equity and turning a profit are more challenging today than ever.

“We are dealing with a more volatile market and economic climate than I've seen in my lifetime,” Leo says of his four decades in the business. “I think it requires assessment of how much risk we're willing to take with any single roll of the dice.”

The primary program at Hollinger Cattle Company revolves around buying calves averaging 350 lbs., putting 400 lbs. on heifers and 500 lbs. on steers, and then marketing them in presorted load-lots.

Until three years ago, the Hollingers procured calves through a local order buyer. These calves came from within 200 miles. Over time, it became difficult to get the number of lightweight cattle they needed when they needed them. Leo chalks that up to the improved genetics and management employed by the state's cattle producers.

At the same time, these calves were getting tougher to handle from a health standpoint.

“I think what it amounted to was too many hauls on the calves in too short a period,” Leo says. Typically, those calves would be hauled to the sale barn by the seller. The order buyer would purchase them and haul them to his gathering facility until a load was made, and then they'd be hauled to Hollingers. So, the calves were hauled three times within a week.

Countering both challenges, the Hollingers began procuring calves via a cattle-buying service in Florida, which buys the calves and preconditions them for 45 days. Many are purchased ranch-direct, so they have one haul to the order-buying facility, then another haul 45 days later to the Hollingers.
“I don't see what's wrong with letting someone else do what you can do, when they are able to as well or better for the same money or less,” Leo says. “For us, it's a cost-effective way to procure cattle when we consider cattle health, time management and the bottom line.”

A few years prior to the transition in procurement, the Hollingers also diversified their risk by weaning and preconditioning calves for others.

Through it all, the organization has focused intently on improving the soils and forages that it stewards.

“Leo always says, ‘I don't consider myself owning this land and I don't intend to sell it; I'm just using it,'” explains Jeannie.

As such, the Hollingers were adopting environmental stewardship practices like planting buffer zones and fencing off riparian areas before these became regulatory necessities.

“We have neighbors whose kids still play in that creek,” Jeannie says, referring to the crystalline Pursely Creek that runs across their place. “We need to keep it safe for them.”

Fleet Hollinger would be proud. “I think we're utilizing this land to its best advantage with stockers,” Hollinger says.

National Stocker Award Runner-up:
G-Three Cattle Co. Focuses on Flexibility

In a backgrounding operation where cattle are fed year-round, you'd expect to find pens and plenty of bare ground. At G-Three Cattle Company, though, the cattle always have forage beneath their feet, even if that means drilling wheat in 10-acre receiving traps.

Gale George and his younger brother, Darrel, explain it has to do with controlling runoff and limiting dust. Equally important, they say it helps reduce health problems.

Cattle arrive and leave G-Three, near Uniontown, KS, year-round. Buying and selling on the same market is one of the risk-management tools the Georges employ. These are typically bulls or steers weighing 500-550 lbs., eventually sold at 800-850 lbs.

Though cattle receive a total mixed ration (TMR), they run in 40- to 80-acre fescue pastures after receiving. From there, depending on the time of year, cattle might move to cornstalks drilled with winter wheat or larger fescue pastures.

The TMR is mostly home grown: corn, corn silage, sorghum and the like. They also make heavy use of byproducts such as wet distillers' grain and corn gluten. They've been able to expand over time with contiguous acres to the point that their operation provides for two families.

“Our cost of gain varies, but we try to keep it below 50¢,” Gale says. “The goal is to put on 2.0-2.5 lbs./day by combining available forage with corn, ethanol by-products and silage, in addition to free-choice hay.”
These days, most cattle flowing through G-Three come from a southern cattle-buying service that brands, deworms, vaccinates and PI-tests the cattle prior to shipment. Until a few years ago, cattle were procured closer to the operation by a local order buyer.

The brothers explain switching procurement strategies had to do with availability more than anything. It was getting tougher to put together loads of quality cattle at the weights and prices they needed, in the short amount of time they had to assemble them.

Gale and Darrel focus on the fact they're raising food rather than cattle. At the same time, Gale says, “We have to put as many pounds on them as cheaply as we can.”

National Stocker Award Runner-up:
Thomas Cattle Buying Services Focuses on Customer Needs

“I'm a firm believer that if we have problems in the preconditioning phase, 95% of the time it's because of management, because of a decision we made,” says Brad Etheridge, managing partner of Thomas Cattle Buying Services (TCBS) at Williston, FL.

TCBS is one of the oldest and largest cattle-buying services in the state. Besides buying and preconditioning calves for a long list of customers across the U.S., the firm also buys and manages its own cattle that are backgrounded here and then marketed sometime between preconditioning and the last day of finishing at a Kansas feedlot.

Etheridge and three other order buyers who work exclusively for TCBS purchase two-thirds of their calves direct and the other third from 11 Florida sale barns. These folks not only know their customers personally, they've been to their operations and return at least every couple of years.

Once calves arrive and are processed, they're placed on a starter ration for 14 days. Ultimately, they'll receive 3% of their body weight.

“Our cleanup time for the bunks is around midnight, so calves will be ready for feed and aggressive getting to the bunks the next morning,” Etheridge says. He explains this practice also makes it easier to identify sick cattle.

“There are so many variables that change every week, but one thing we won't do, don't do, is change the receiving protocol or starting feed, because nutrition and health protocol must remain consistent,” Etheridge says.

That's also why they use metaphylaxis for calves received from sale barns. “It gives us consistency on the front end,” Etheridge says.

Though the TCBS core business remains the same, Etheridge believes in diversification. TCBS has leveraged its preconditioning business with complementary enterprises. They've added farm ground — primarily corn, peanuts and watermelon — as well as pharmaceutical distribution and custom seed harvesting.

TCBS is also building its own feed mill to manage feed costs. The firm already buys corn as far as six months out to ensure customers receive the price quoted to them.

“I don't watch daily price trends or make market charts,” Etheridge says. “We do a lot of reading, studying and listening to our customers scattered across the U.S.”