Kansans start small to get a taste of finishing their cattle.

Alliance can be a rather loosely defined term. That's fortunate for members of the Northeast Kansas Steer Futurity.

Started as a beef profit club in January 1996, the futurity is a cooperative effort of 16 livestock producers in Doniphan, Jackson and Jefferson counties, an area where cattle herds are generally smaller than in the western part of the state. The futurity offers participants the opportunity to feed cattle jointly, share rewards and work together to improve individual herds for long-term industry needs.

Bill Wood, Extension agent in Doniphan County, says the effort lets producers learn more about their cattle, examine feedyard and carcass data and begin making long-term breeding decisions based on this information. It also gives producers, who normally wouldn't have a full pen, a chance to retain ownership and feed their calves rather than sell them off the ranch.

Howard Jensen, a veterinarian and futurity founder in Troy, KS, took a leadership role for two reasons. "I treat animals for a living and I want to help make my clients as profitable as they can be," Jensen says. "I want them to continue to be a part of the cattle business, not only for their sake, but because I need a client base to stay in business."

In its first year, futurity participants agreed to an in-weight range of 550-700 lbs. Last year, the range was broadened (450-800 lbs.), but Jensen says plans are in place to work around this.

"Our goal is to tighten our weight ranges and have two placement dates," he says. "We'll also hold to tighter parameters overall to make things fairer. The bottom line is to increase productivity and decrease costs."

Producers also agreed to wean at least 30 days prior to delivery and perform all vaccinations with brand name products. The $25/head entry fee is applied to the total feedyard bill when cattle are sold.

Though relatively new, the futurity is working well. Wood says he's seen amazing cooperation and interest among producers and others in the area.

"As we work with smaller alliances, we need to work toward similar genetics in our cow herds," he says. "The results we're getting in this project will convince more producers to work with us."

Genetics, Jensen says, will be packer-driven. "We don't want to be in the discount market."

Plus, he adds, the benefits of the alliance aren't exclusive to producers who retain ownership. "These producers can still sell their calves at the local sale barn," Jensen says. "With the reputation for quality gained from feeding, it's likely they'll get a better price for their cattle here at home."