Producer Spotlight

JD Russell
Spring Creek Ranch
Eureka, Kansas

By Audrey Hambright

JD Russell, (right), herds a set of bulls with one of the ranch hands.

JD Russell, (right), bringing up a set of two-year-old Akaushi bulls to be processed with one of the ranch hands, Justin.

JD Russell, manager of the Spring Creek Ranch division of Matador Cattle Company located near Eureka, Kansas, has worked for the Matador Ranch entity for 28 years in several different capacities. Originally from Texas, Russell grew up not far from the Matador Ranch in Matador, Texas. In fact, his ties to the Texas ranch go as far back as far as his great grandfather who worked for the Matador’s in the 1800’s. Russell grew up in the heart of big ranch country listening to the stories of those who worked on the ranches.

“It was always intriguing to me,” he said. “It was a dream of mine growing up to be able to work on the bigger ranches.”

Russell attended Texas Tech University where he obtained a degree in agricultural economics with an emphasis on ranch management. Soon after graduation an opportunity with Matador Ranch became available where he started out as a “camp man” managing replacement heifers. Eventually he took on more responsibility on the business side, which opened the doors for more management positions.

Russell started as manager of Spring Creek Ranch in the fall of 2012. The main focus of the operation is producing the breeding herd and seedstock, comprised of Hereford and Angus genetics, for the two other ranches located in Matador, Texas and Dillon, Montana. As breeding strategies evolved, the ranch added in a less-traditional terminal breed – Akaushi – a Japanese beef breed known for its carcass value.

In addition to the day-to-day ranch work of managing both spring and fall calving herds to match the production system on the other two ranches, Russell spends a significant amount of time making projections for management and making sure the ranch is in compliance with regulations. Matador Ranch is subsidiary of Koch Industries, which often means there are more details to be addressed from the management side than a typical ranch might experience. However, he feels the business principals set forth by upper management – integrity and compliance – help guide how the ranch performs daily business.

The Ranches employees are the members that make up the MCC safety committee.  This committee conducts monthly conference calls to discuss emerging safety and compliance issues. According to Russell their safety program has made them more efficient.

Russell bottle feeds a calf at the ranch.

Russell and Gilbert lend a helping hand to one of the Registered Hereford calves on the ranch.

“It has made us ask if there’s a better way,” he said. “Sometimes we can make modifications to the process and allocate resources to other tasks that need attention.”

Russell has implemented this way of thinking into several areas of the operation, looking at the bigger picture. When strategizing with the ranch team they discuss the far-reaching impacts their decisions will have on the business. For example, the team has to evaluate what genetics will work environmentally for all three ranch locations.

“The things you do today, affect what happens down the road due to the nature of the business,” he said. “When we’re developing maternal genetics for other ranches, it puts more emphasis on what we do here. We spend a lot of time talking to the other ranches on strategies and if they agree those strategies fit into their operation plan.”

As manager, Russell is acutely aware of new challenges that come along with the every-changing political field and new regulations. Some of these challenges have lent themselves to become opportunities, such as Beef Quality Assurance (BQA).

“BQA is an opportunity to document and share our procedures,” he said. “It’s what we’ve practiced all along, but we have never done a good job at documenting and sharing our story until now.”

All full-time employees of the ranch are BQA certified. Russell is a part of a BQA conference call for the ranch that takes place with the upper management team, discussing protocols around processing, treatments and animal handling as well as emerging issues around BQA. Dr. Dave Rethorst, outreach director for the BCI, has facilitated BQA trainings and completed evaluations at the Montana and Texas location.

“When you hear your employees talking about it around the chute, that’s when you know you’re getting real buy-in,” he said.

His advice for producers just staring out or returning to the family farm stems from his conversations he had with his father as a boy as well as those he’s had with his own son.

“Go out and expand your knowledge in the field you choose,” he said. “Be able to draw from several different resources as you develop your own operation or go to work for someone else. Always seek the best knowledge to be able to take advantage of new opportunities that present themselves.”

A dose of his own advice plus his passion for the cattle business, has paved the road for Russell to be right where he wants to be.