Feedlot Health Management Services
Feedlot Health Management Services (Feedlot Health) is a privately-owned beef industry consultancy enterprise with origins just outside Okotoks, Alta., 20km from the south edge of Calgary. Founded in 1983 by Managing Director Dr. Kee Jim, Feedlot Health has celebrated 30 years of providing comprehensive animal health management programs, production consulting services and in-depth individual animal health and production recording systems on their computer database systems. It was the vision of Dr. Jim to bring value-based veterinary services to feedlot operations in south central Alberta.
The typical relationship between a veterinarian and their client is most often transactional based. Whether it’s a dog or a cat or a feedlot, you have a problem, you phone the veterinarian who goes out and does what he or she can to fix it and then goes away. The animal owner is left to clean up and on top of that he/she gets a bill from the veterinarian.
“Their worst days are the days they had to engage the services of a veterinarian, but that was the veterinarian’s best day from a financial point of view,” says Dr. Tye Perrett, Managing Partner & SAVS & LAC Team Lead. “And then when the feedlot wasn’t having any animal health problems then the veterinarian wasn’t having a good day financially and had to go out and find other revenue streams. One of the things that Kee did right from the very beginning was establishing a method whereby our payment or compensation comes related to how many cattle are in the feedlot every day, which is an indirect measure of feedlot profitability or success.”
As operations increase in success, more cattle are kept and Feedlot Health is responsible to be proactive and integrated into the decision making and building the preventive health protocols and production strategies from that time forward.
Feedlot and Calf Grower Services
The majority of Canadian clients working with Feedlot Health are from the southern Alberta region as one would expect, given the demographics of the beef and cattle industry in Canada.
“Seventy per cent of all feedlot production takes place in Alberta,” Dr. Perrett confirms. “We do have clients in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and in Quebec. We don’t have any in Ontario but we haven’t done a lot of active pursuit either.”
Feedlot Health has developed an almost equally large business in the United States with Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas being the core states where the enterprise is most active and just recently they procured a new client in Mexico. Through expansion they have built partner relationships in the U.S. and Quebec and have extended their veterinary and production consulting services to calf grower operations that raise day-old dairy calves for the first 120 to 150 days of life. There are four veterinarians and one PhD animal scientist south of the border and one veterinarian in Quebec.
“Everything is supported out of this central office with more than 50 people working here,” adds Dr. Calvin Booker, Managing Partner & Research Manager at Feedlot Health.
“Almost everything that happens in Alberta happens out of this office. We have a satellite office in Lethbridge and it operates through Lethbridge Animal Clinic (LAC), a veterinary practice that we own. So as we deliver our animal health and production consulting services through that practice we’ve got individuals out of that office who help deliver those services.”
On any given day there could be six or eight professional consultants and an equal number of support team personnel who would be out at a feedlot site doing something each and every day, although it may not always be the same six or eight individuals because certain team members are tasked with different roles and responsibilities. Some days there may only be five consultants out in the field, then as many as 15 on another – each day is uniquely different.
“When team members aren’t out in the field they are back here in the office doing other things, such as data analysis – be it research or monitoring,” Dr. Booker continues.
The global economic downturn that began to take hold in 2008 hit a number of industries in Canada, requiring many enterprises to pick up the pieces as a slow but steady recovery began to eventually take hold. While the recession was noticeable across the board, Feedlot Health and the beef industry were not as hard hit as some other industries.
“Being based here out of Calgary, the effects of the recession were muted compared to what they would have been in the U.S. so we probably didn’t feel the full effect of that,” Dr. Perrett mentions. “Ourselves and our clients had some upside in that it did take a little pressure off the labour force as our clients typically compete for labour that would normally be in oil and gas or construction.”
The most profound effect on Feedlot Health in terms of the economy has happened over the past 18 months both in Canada and the U.S. as feed grain prices have surged disproportionately to increases in slaughter cattle prices.
“This has created an equity-draining situation for most of our clients,” Dr. Perrett notes.
Dr. Booker then expanded on that a bit further saying “Food production tends to be a somewhat insulated from global recessionary factors because people are still going to eat. Profitability of the feedlots is turning around. There was a period of time when it went from steepest losses to smaller losses and it looks like those are now turning into small profits at the moment.”
Record grain crops this year have also given rise to optimism that better times are ahead as well as record corn crops unfolding in the U.S. That in turn will push grain prices lower, which of course is one of the primary inputs into the cattle production side.
Research is at the very core of what Feedlot Health is all about as Dr. Booker confirms.
“We’re a knowledge-based company. We’ve got three or four main pillars that support what we do and continuing research and development is one of those. We’re really on the applied research side of things. We don’t do bench-top research and discovery of new molecules or vaccines or those types of things, but as those products or technologies become commercially available we try and be the leader in the industry in North America at doing large-scale studies to determine the biologic impact of these technologies and what it means in terms of economics for clients who adopt those.”
Government regulatory approvals are based on a thorough solid framework of rules and regulations both here and in the U.S. required to licence the use of all products that are used in animal feedlot production and specifically beef cattle in this instance.
“The regulatory processes focus on animal and human safety, toxicology and residues and efficacy,” Dr. Booker says. “The products used commercially are all approved by the various regulatory agencies in each country.”
The industry has become so complex in terms of detail it would be virtually unimaginable without keeping an in-depth computerized database to readily access mountains of information. The progression of computers has been a game-changer for Feedlot Health, as one could easily surmise.
“Kee immediately realized that if he was going to effectively help his clients, he needed to collect individual animal information,” Dr. Perrett says. “That becomes very difficult if you’re doing it on paper. In 1985 he arranged to put the very first computers in the barn where the cattle are treated individually, or arrive at the feedlot individually and began for the very first time in Canada to collect individual animal information. He put a unique ID tag in each animal and from that time forward he knew everything that needed to be known about that animal.”
The evolution from those early years continues to forge ahead exponentially with both improvements in technology and advanced research methods. Feedlot Health has transitioned through three advancement versions of its own proprietary software that is available to clients only. The fourth version is being beta-tested now.
“Technology to build and maintain records and data integrity and to be able to have that information at your fingertips to help our clients, monitor what’s going on and make decisions, is a big part of what we do,” Dr. Perrett states.
To this end, Feedlot Health is fortunate that one of their Managing Partners, Dr. Brian Wildman, does a tremendous job of leading the team that develops and maintains its data recording and reporting systems, as well as integrating these systems into daily feedlot and calf grower operations in a seamless and efficient manner.
“There are over 90 sites in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico that use our systems on a daily basis,” Dr. Booker continues. “Data are collected on independent stand-alone servers at each of the individual feedlot sites, but replicates to our office overnight so our team here can really be plugged in to be providing oversight on production, animal health and all the things we’re involved with. We started as a veterinary company because Kee was a veterinarian and Tye and I are both veterinarians as well, but we’ve expanded that into other aspects of animal production and nutrition. Currently, the Feedlot Health consulting team is comprised of 17 veterinarians and six PhD animal scientists and nutritionists, including Dr. Luis Buriaga, Dr. Matt May and Dr. Kent Fenton, who are partners in Feedlot Health with Team Lead responsibilities for our animal production, nutrition and animal health service modules, respectively.”
Uniqueness of Feedlot Health
While there are other veterinarians in both Canada and the U.S. that provide what is typically known as veterinary feedlot consulting, most of their business models tend to be quite different than the one followed by Feedlot Health. Those other entities are essentially involved in arriving in the feedlot on a specified frequency, be it once per month or bi-monthly. They don’t have access to client data or information between times and so they must scramble to catch up during the date they are present and then the cycle starts over again until the next time they return, which has always been the historical, traditional approach for the vast majority of feedlot veterinarians. Feedlot nutritional consultants use a similar model in many cases and/or perhaps are connected to feed companies or manufacturing facilities where they’d become involved in the sale of the products to feedlot entities. With Feedlot Health, there is much more of a comprehensive and immediate knowledge-based understanding of each particular feedlot day in and day out.
“Our approach is different in that we’ve taken the veterinarians and the nutritionists and made them into one complete team,” Dr. Perrett reveals. “We go to great lengths to ensure we’re highly integrated into the client’s system every day and consistently. Our clients collect animal health and production data every day at the feedlot through our proprietary software; it’s downloaded to our office and we’re then looking at it and dealing with it every day and interacting with the clients, whether it’s through phone calls, conference calls, emails, team viewer sessions, Skype or on-site visits, we’re always in contact so they can execute what needs to happen.”
Another area where Feedlot Health has a leg up on its competition is through the knowledge-based system that is used. The traditional method by veterinarians and nutritionists would be to use a first-principle’s approach, based on what is taught in university and what the text books and research papers say. While Feedlot Health will use all that information to help generate a hypothesis on what needs to be done, the company then tests that hypothesis in a commercial feedlot operation, which leads to an economic analysis to determine the best option moving forward.
“I would suggest that we are one of a few, if not the only operations of this size that would be using that approach in the world,” Dr. Perrett proudly states.
Dr. Booker follows up on that with a few additional points. “If you take any one of those individual components we do have competitors, but none of them are trying to tie that altogether and make all of those pieces come together to create an even bigger value proposition for their clients. We have an integrated systems-based approach, trying to look at everything the client wants us to look at and be plugged into what they’re doing daily.”
Another very noticeable positive attribute of Feedlot Health is the length of time many of their employees have been with the company, which serves to enhance the brand and generate a deeper level of trust and confidence for clients.
“We are fortunate that we have been able to attract and maintain a team of people here that are very skilled and highly passionate about what they do,” Dr. Perrett tells us.
As for future goals, both Dr. Perrett and Dr. Booker agree that they want to see Feedlot Health maintain and enhance the level of service and value provided to their existing clients.
“We have a group of loyal and dedicated clients and we need to take care of them,” Dr. Perrett begins. “We are still interested in building and growing our company and that has happened as we’ve grown in the U.S. We would provide services to close to half of all feedlot cattle that are currently produced in Canada; not half of all the feedlot operations but half of the cattle production in feedlots. Our growth potential here in western Canada is limited for that reason so we’re looking for other geographical areas.
The U.S. and Mexico are natural fits for what we do, but we are also working on current opportunities in China, Russia and South Africa.”
“We want to leverage what we currently do with feedlots and calf growers but if it makes sense to leverage some of those into cow-calf production or commercial dairy production that will also be of interest to us,” adds Dr. Booker.
An innovative company such as Feedlot Health leads the way in providing input, vision and oversight for the sector that serves to benefit beef producers at the highest level in this extremely important economic industry.