Bledsoe Cattle Company of Wray, Colorado named the 2020 BQA Feedyard Award Winner
Focus on Learning and Sharing Knowledge Earns Bledsoe Cattle Company BQA Feedyard Award
Bledsoe Cattle Company has a long history, with nearly a century’s worth of experience raising, working, and feeding cattle from the Texas panhandle to the plains of eastern Colorado. But if anything, the years have taught the Bledsoe family and their crews that no matter how much you know, there is always room to grow.
This philosophy has earned Bledsoe Cattle a place as an industry leader, and the 2020 National Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Feedyard Award. The company’s commitment to BQA guidelines has not only positively impacted its own operations, but its suppliers and customers.
“Doing it right is our priority and following BQA guidelines in that process, it’s huge for us,” said Grant Bledsoe, who owns and runs Bledsoe Cattle alongside his father, Bob Bledsoe, and their families.
One reason the Bledsoe’s place high value on BQA guidelines is due to advantages the company sees by following BQA across its incredibly diverse operations. Along with its main feedyard in Wray, Colorado, which has an 8,000 head capacity, Bledsoe Cattle owns farm land, pasture ground, and grow yards in Phillips and Yuma counties, as well as farm land and a stocker ranch in Harding County, South Dakota.
It all started when the family moved from Texas to start a cow/calf and sheep operation in southeastern Colorado in 1925. Henry Bledsoe, Bob’s father and Grant’s grandfather, relocated the family and cattle operations to Wray, Colorado in 1948, and added a feedlot in the early 1950s.
The current feedlot, located to the north of the town, was constructed in the 1970s, as the Bledsoes developed their farmland and pastures. Now, the fourth generation of the Bledsoe family is learning the ropes, down to the tradition of walking the feedlot pens each Sunday to personally inspect the cattle.
Having consistent standards for cattle care and treatment has been a key to the company’s success across all of its facilities over the years, and the family have been proponents of BQA for decades. Providing training and certification in BQA practices every three years for the company’s employees and contracted crews — some of whom have worked with the company for 40 years — continues to ensure consistent expectations for both employees and cattle at all properties.
“Bledsoe Cattle Company has implemented training and certification to the degree that permeates every aspect of their operation,” said Paul Dykstra, beef cattle specialist at Certified Angus Beef, which also recognized Bledsoe Cattle with its Commitment to Excellence award for feedlots in 2018.
“Low-stress cattle handling techniques are a matter of standard procedure in the Bledsoe operation, and I know that management takes part in hands-on training as they set an example for the feedlot crew,” Dykstra said.
The company’s diverse operations give it a unique advantage in implementing BQA best practices. Most calves are delivered to the company directly from weaning by a supplier, allowing Bledsoe to handle and care for the cattle for all but approximately the first 200 days of each calf’s life. Through several phases at the company’s feedlots, and winter and summer grazing locations, cattle are able to slowly acclimate to feedlot pens, bunks, processing, and vaccinations.
Not only has Bledsoe Cattle taken BQA guidelines into account at each facility, they’ve also built on their own experience. For example, the company’s weaning pens are specially designed to direct calves who begin to circle by placing perpendicular waterers at the center of the pen’s rear fence line, pointing them back toward feed bunks.
The number of properties that Bledsoe Cattle utilizes brings its own challenges, too. Between its own properties and in moving cattle from its cow/calf producer-suppliers, cattle may be transported by truck as many as six times before reaching a packing facility.
Transportation is taken very seriously, with one of Bledsoe Cattle’s owners or representatives present at each delivery of calves and nearly all shipments of fed cattle. Four of the company’s employees are also trained and certified in the BQA Transportation program, along with having decades of combined cattle hauling experience. By applying BQA’s transportation and low-stress cattle handling guidelines, going through the transportation process multiple times actually helps condition cattle to shipping, minimizes stress on both cattle and employees, and reduces rates of bruising and dark cutters.
In fact, with each positive transportation experience, cattle gain a sense of ease and comfort that ultimately yields a smooth final shipment.
“With everything we do, the gentler on those cattle we are, the easier on those carcasses we’re going to be,” Grant Bledsoe said.
The Bledsoes have taken this mentality beyond their own operations as well. For one, regularly providing training to the company’s hired processing crews allows livestock operations across eastern Colorado to reap the benefits of proper chute-side BQA techniques. The company has also established strong relationships with individual ranches and suppliers across the northern Great Plains states and work closely with them on cattle management topics.
Colorado Livestock Association President Mike Veeman and William Hammerich, CEO, said the Bledsoes are “true believers in low-stress cattle handling procedures.”
“To say they “wear BQA on their sleeve” is an understatement, as demonstrated by their efforts to reach back up the supply chain and encourage the ranchers that they purchase calves from to also adopt a robust BQA program,” Veeman and Hammerich said.
The Bledsoe family have also been advocates for the beef industry for decades, providing opportunities for the public and consumers to see into its operations and feel greater confidence in the products they consume. The company often provides tours of its operations for groups arranged by its long-time packer, Cargill Meat Solutions, from international experts considering export opportunities, to sustainability tours for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. The company also hosts around 300 birdwatchers at its pastureland each spring to view the mating ritual of the greater prairie chicken, providing opportunities for visitors to learn about cattle and to debunk myths about the beef industry.
By continuing to focus on learning, and by providing opportunities to share their knowledge with partners and consumers, Bledsoe Cattle aims to adapt and improve its operations to benefit its cattle, partners, and ultimately, the beef industry as a whole.
The BQA Feedyard Award is funded in part by the Beef Checkoff with additional support from Cargill. For more information on Bledsoe Cattle Company and other 2020 BQA Award winners, visit https://www.bqa.org/about/bqa-awards.
About Beef Quality Assurance
Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a nationally coordinated, state implemented program funded by the Beef Checkoff that provides U.S. beef producers guidelines and certification drawn from common sense husbandry techniques and accepted scientific knowledge on how to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions. BQA reflects a positive public image and instills consumer confidence in the beef industry. When producers implement the best management practices of a BQA program, they assure their cattle are the best they can be. For more information on BQA, visit http://www.bqa.org/.