Feeding cattle, Darnall feedlot spans six generations
Harrisburg, Neb. – Darnall Feedlot and Ranch have a long history of ranching and feeding in western Nebraska.
Darnall Ranch founder Scott Darnall homesteaded the ranch in 1886 with a herd of Hereford cattle.
Through the years, the ranch has been passed down through generations of Darnalls, from Scott to his son Arthur, then to Arthur’s son Harvey, who passed the ranch on to his son Gary.
Gary Darnall currently works with his son Lane, buying and selling cattle, handling feedlot matters and helping run the business aspect of the organization.
“My daughter Lisa Brenner is also involved in the business and works in the accounting area, while my granddaughter Shalane Bright keeps records and physically works with the cows,” Darnall adds. “Darnall Feedlot is a family organization, and we plan to keep it that way.”
While Darnall Ranch originally started out with Herefords, the family decided to switch over to Angus cattle, mentions Darnall.
“From 1962-65, the ranch converted to Angus cattle because we started cross breeding between Hereford and Angus. We liked the Angus assets better and made the switch to all Angus cattle,” he explains.
Darnall Feedlot, created in 1979, is a custom feedlot where customers from North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska bring their cattle to be fed and finished, according to Darnall.
“We started feeding our own cattle in the feedlot, and then some neighbors wanted us to feed their cattle, too,” says Darnall. “As a result, Darnall Feedlot grew slowly over time as demand for the service increased.”
Twice a day, at 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., an employee called a bunk reader checks all the feed bunks to determine the amount of feed each pen will get for the next feeding period.
Darnall explains, “We try and feed the exact amount the cattle will eat every day to decrease feed waste.”
All feed data is put into a laptop, which is then sent to the feed mill so rations can be made and distributed to each pen right away, says Darnall.
There are approximately 100 pens at Darnall Feedlot, and the cattle are separated based on ownership, he notes, adding most customers retain ownership of the cattle brought to the feedlot.
“When the cattle come in, they are ear tagged using a visual tag with a lot number and five-digit code specific to each animal. We also use electronic identification (EID) tags, which provide carcass data after the cattle go to market, for customers who want carcass data and for meat packing plants that require EIDs,” Darnall explains.
Darnall Feedlot has 17 full-time employees, including cowboys who ride the pens every day on horseback to look for sick or injured cattle.
“A consulting vet sets up protocols of what the symptoms are and what the treatments will be so the cowboys can determine how to doctor the sick cattle for their symptoms,” says Darnall. “We keep electronic records of every treatment the cattle receive, and before going to the meat packing plant, the records are checked for drug withdrawal periods.”
A nutritionist provides advice and formulates rations for the feedlot, as well.
“We are constantly adjusting to the price of commodities to make the most cost-effective feed. It’s not about the cheapest ration. It’s about the best ration,” he adds.
Then to now
Since the beginning, both Darnall Feedlot and Ranch have slowly grown and experienced major changes, but smaller changes have made a huge difference in the whole organization.
“The biggest change we’ve had is the technology involved in the operation,” notes Darnall. “We’re using technology to collect feed data, keep records and retrieve carcass data, which help us make better decisions in the feedlot.”
Improving cattle health accuracy is another benefit of technology, Darnall adds.
Just like any operation, the Darnalls have also experienced challenges over the years, he mentions.
“Finding adequate labor for both the feedlot and ranch is one challenge we’ve definitely had to face,” says Darnall.
He adds, the weather is also a challenge, especially when trying to make sure the cattle get fed on time.
“We try to get the cattle fed within the same 15 minutes every day, but sometimes, the weather interrupts,” Darnall states. “Weather is the second biggest challenge we deal with.”
According to Darnall, western Nebraska is a good climate for feeding cattle and increasing gains.
“Most of the time, we do have good weather and the temperature isn’t too hot or cold for long periods of time, which can affect cattle eating habits,” he mentions.
Additionally, western Nebraska doesn’t get a lot of moisture because the area is mostly high plains.
“Not having as much moisture is an advantage for the cattle pens because they don’t get wet and cause health problems,” Darnall explains. “Pen conditions are very important, and if the manure is higher than the cattle’s dewclaws, we’re being less efficient.”
Darnall says the agriculture industry has been good to the Darnall operation, both financially and for the family.
He also mentions employees at Darnall Feedlot are an important part of the business.
“Ruth Ammon, who’s been with us for 10 years and helps with records, billing and keeping track of cattle, is one of our very valued employees. She really is a part of our family,” Darnall says. “We are also grateful for head cowboy Tim Brost, who’s been with us for over nine years overseeing the health of the feedlot cattle every day.”
“I love the agriculture industry,” he concludes. “We’ve stayed in the industry because we love the people and lifestyle it offers us.”
For more information, call Darnall Feedlot at 308-783-2048.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.