Keeping Up with the Industry

Through the years, Scott Keeling, owner of Keeling Cattle Feeders, had to “move with the times,” adjusting his business model to accommodate a changing industry. He started out feeding about 75 percent customer-owned cattle, 25 percent his own. Now those numbers are almost inverted. “It’s not 75/25 the other way, but it can sure be 60/40 at times,” he says. Taking on that risk and expense himself has become a necessity. “It’s really become tough and the capital requirements are high,” he says. “Some people say, ‘I just don’t need to be doing this anymore. It’s too risky.”
His cattle come through sale barns and private treaty, from “everywhere,” he says: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona and Mexico. “There are dealers down at the border [Mexico] that do all the work, shape cattle up and make sellable bunches.” Almost all are crossbred cattle.

Keeling has found his place with these types of auction animals, which he describes as “one that might be a little bit lighter, a little bit harder to take care of,” he says. “We feel like we can do a good job of taking care of those high-risk cattle. We don’t have to run so many of them; we’re taking in 100 head, while bigger yards are taking in 1,000 at a time. On a smaller scale we can give them the attention these type of cattle need. It’s still hard to do, and we get humbled pretty regularly, but we feel like we can do a good job.” To be successful as an independent feeder, it’s important to identify your spot in the business landscape, Keeling says. “If you’re trying to do the same thing the big boys are doing, you’ll get run over. They’re not bullies, but they’re doing what they’re going to do, and they’re not going to change for you. If you try to compete for that yearling—you just can’t do it.”

So he takes the lighter-weight cattle and grows them on silage-based ration up to 700 pounds or so and then finishes them. “It’s a real nice animal to market—the packers seem to like them.”

Click here to read more about how Keeling Cattle Feeders got its start.