Ottawa County Feedlot
By Audrey Hambright
“You never know where you’re headed when you start first thing in the day.”
Perry Owens, manager of Ottawa County Feedlot near Minneapolis, Kansas, knows this truth all too well. In fact on one Friday between juggling phone calls and preparing to live trade that afternoon, Owens was rearranging drivers for feed trucks due to one breaking down earlier in the day. To him, it’s just another day in the life.
Owens began his career in the feeder cattle business after graduating from Fort Hays State University in 1982, when he and his wife Bonnie moved back to their hometown of Leoti, Kansas. He started at Kan Sun Beef, riding pens and driving feed trucks at the 15,000 head yard. Soon he worked his way up to assistant manager followed by a promotion to manager of Kan Sun in 1996. When he was offered the opportunity to look at the yard in Ottawa County, he decided it would be a good change of pace and started as manager of the 8,000 head yard in the fall of 2003.
In the role of manager, Owens bases his management style on the principle that this is still one of the few industries where business can be done on a handshake. His most important asset, he said, is the people, whether it’s customers or employees.
“It’s a people business and that is what has shaped my perception of what is going on here,” he said. “If we take care of them, they’ll take care of us.”
At a feedyard where all the cattle are customer-owned with the exception of 10 head, Owens has built a significant amount of trust and respect with his customers. Since the feedyard negotiates live trade on most cattle, Owens will visit with customers to get an idea on how they want to trade or whether they want to participate. He said all of them have given him permission to make decisions when selling cattle.
Another aspect of management that is important to Owens is having an active part in the day-to-day operations of the feedyard. While it provides him with a different perspective and a better understanding of the logistics, it also keeps him involved in what he enjoys.
“Because of the size of the feedyard, I get to drive feed trucks or check cattle,” he said.
Owens distributes the crew each morning depending on what projects are in progress. Even though he sets goals for the day, sometimes adjustments have to be made for what needs to be done due to unplanned events. For instance, when he needed to rearrange feed truck drivers because of a break down.
“We adjust accordingly to do what is best for the cattle,” he said. “Our goal is to do what’s best for the cattle each day.”
Doing what’s best for the cattle has been a top priority for Ottawa County Feeders. According to Owens, the feedyard utilizes many Bud Williams handling techniques, which emphasize low stress livestock handling methods. The feedyard is also Beef Quality Assurance certified.
From his standpoint, the feedyard is in a great location. Located just off of Highway 81, the feedyard is accessible to both educational tours and travelers. As a regular stop on the Feedlot Management Class tour, Owens and his crew try to provide a hands-on learning environment for the students.
“We’re trying to help train future consulting veterinarians of what they need to be looking for,” he said. “I learn a lot from the students. It makes me think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Outside of managing the feedyard, Owens has active roles in industry organizations. He is currently serving his third year as president of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, which is a board-elected position. In addition, he’s at the start of his second term on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and Kansas Beef Council.
His reflections on how the industry has changed over his lifetime are positive. The concern for clean, safe beef on the end of the producer is one of the most significant changes he has witnessed. In regards to the industry as a whole, he feels there has been good progress, but there is still work to be done.
“We want to be good stewards,” he said. “It ruffles my feathers when they say we aren’t.”
In all his work and involvement in the industry, Owens feels very blessed with the people he’s been able to meet and those he’s gotten to know. With his blessings in family, friends and business, he left the industry with a few wise words:
“Be strong, be proud. You’re a cattlemen in the industry and appreciate that.”
And always have a pot of coffee on he added, especially feedlot coffee.