Trying to manage fuel costs in a feedyard is a bit like paying taxes. Your options are fairly limited.
“There's just not an easy fix for it,” says Sam Stevenson, assistant manager at Cattlemen's Feedlot at Olton, TX.
Buck Wehrbein agrees. Wehrbein, manager at Mead Cattle Co. at Mead, NE, says they're trying to coordinate trips to town to cut down on the miles, but their options at the yard are limited. “I missed the big up (in energy futures),and if I try to cover something now, I'll just buy at the high.”
Beyond that, he says there isn't much he can do. “The more feed we haul, the better off we are. There isn't much you can do as far as cutting down on loads of feed.”
Irsik and Doll feedyard, Garden City, KS, has long worked to run as efficiently as possible, says Manager Mark Sebranek. “To me, it's always been high,” he says of fuel prices.
They've tried various brands of equipment, looking for those that are fuel efficient, and presently are running AGCO-Allison equipment, which is more fuel-efficient than other brands.
“We don't let (the equipment) sit around and idle,” he says, “and we probably don't touch up as much as we used to.” And, taking a cue from their experience with heavy equipment, he says they're looking at the possibility of eventually replacing their full-sized pickups with smaller, more fuel-efficient trucks.
Beyond that, like other feedyard managers, Sebranek says there's little he can do. A feedyard runs on its rolling stock, and the wheels must keep rolling.
Looking down the road, Stevenson is concerned that a possible fallout of high fuel costs is its effect on employees. “It's not uncommon to have a guy drive 30 miles to work. It's a concern that you're going to lose people because of the drive.”
That hasn't happened yet, but Stevenson says he “wouldn't be surprised if we see a shift where these guys are looking for a job closer to home. They may be willing to do something they don't particularly want to do, but may have to out of necessity.”
Stevenson isn't sure how the feedyard will deal with that problem, should it arise. Options include a possible pay hike or some other type of incentive. For now, he's hoping the matter will settle itself. “I'm hoping there's somebody close to here who is driving 30 miles to work and we can swap,” he says with a laugh.
But then he turns serious. “It's kind of like at home. You can conserve so much by cutting back on your driving, but there are still the essentials you've got to do. You've got to drive where you need to drive, and do what you need to do.”