“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet and there isn’t one,” says Carson Horner, managing partner of Haskell Feeders, Rochester, TX. “The industry has gotten away from quality in the name of quantity. Simple animal husbandry is becoming a lost art, and that includes everything from cleaning water troughs to cattle handling.”

Horner has been around high-risk calves most all his life – growing up, he worked for folks in different facets of the business. That includes receiving and processing calves at Cactus Feeders.

He got a degree from Tarleton State University, then leveraged his lifelong practical experience by graduating from Texas Christian University's intensive Ranch Management Program. Seven years ago, he built and managed a backgrounding yard at Rochester for Gottsch Cattle Feeders. In February 2012, he built and began Haskell Feeders, a custom preconditioning and backgrounding yard with a 2,500-head capacity.

“I’m fixing to be 40 and I’m finally not a rookie anymore,” Horner says. This statement comes with pride, not boasting. He grew up among old-timers where you were expected to listen rather than be heard. Offering opinion and advice was a privilege based on years of experience, not idle chatter.

Like this sector of the industry,  Horner says, “This facility is built for people to stockpile calves, get them over sickness and ready to move on to the next stage of production.”

Cattle arriving here range from 250-lb. flyweights being straightened out for grass or wheat pasture, to 7-weight cutter bulls being readied for a short summer grazing season. Cattle will be here for as few as 30 days to more than 100 days through wheat pasture grazing in March andApril. Haskell Feeders has a lot of wheat ground at its disposal.

There's no cutting corners

Forget hard-earned lessons, cut corners and next thing you know, Horner says, “you’re in a wreck, and guess what, you’re the one who made it.”

That’s why Horner is a stickler for managing cattle based on working with them and their innate behavior rather than trying to overwhelm them with manpower and a clock.

Consider the fact that Horner hasn’t had a hospital pen in eight years; he hates them. Here, cattle are pulled and treated, and then returned to their home pen.

“Cattle develop their own peers and pecking order,” Horner explains. “If we stay ahead of them, they’ll feel better back in their home pen and won’t walk the pen as much. A hospital pen gets added to every day, so it’s always different with different peers and a different pecking order.”

Cattle pulled and treated twice or ostracized in their home pens go to what Horner terms a rehabilitation trap, with other peers from the same pen. If those cattle rehab, they go back to the home pen.

Consider, too, Horner’s focus on nutrition, both the ingredients and volume.

While ration cost is always a factor, Horner says, “You’ve got to have a ration with palatability and quality. You have to find something your lightest calf will enjoy eating.”

Haskell Feeders' ration ingredients here include wheat hay and wheat silage, along with Rumensin®, vitamins and minerals. He likes distillers grains, too, but the drought has made them tough to come by.

Horner and his crew feed once a day, but read bunks twice every day. “I want them to stay a little aggressive. When they’re filled up all the time, you start to get more pulls,” he says.