Although the small northwest Oklahoma towns are only twenty miles apart, Tom Fanning’s journey between growing up on a small farm in May, to managing Buffalo Feeders has taken him around the world.
His service in the United States Army led him to Germany for three years and to complete a Master’s degree at Troy State University. Tom retired from the Army as an Infantry Captain and joined the management training program for Cargill. Following nine years in the Texas panhandle, Tom had an opportunity to return home as the manager of Buffalo Feeders where he has been for sixteen years.
“My wife and I have a cow-calf and stocker operation, and each of our three children has one as well. Cattle truly is our livelihood.” Tom said.
Buffalo Feeders is a 30,000 head cattle feed yard located just outside Buffalo, Okla. On any given day, new cattle come in, fed cattle are shipped out and every process in between is managed for optimum performance and animal care.
“We are big users of data and we manage every detail.” Tom said.
“The moment an animal comes on our lot they are weighed individually and receive an ear tag with a lot identification number and an individual identification number.” He said.
The scales under every chute are tied wirelessly into their animal health system that records instantly when an animal is treated.
“Literally, one of my cowboys can take a picture of an animal on his phone, text it to the office and know the entire history of that animal in one minute.” Tom explained.
As the largest non-governmental employer in Harper County, Buffalo Feeders provides tremendous economic impact.
“Yesterday morning, within the first 30 minutes of my day I was on the phone with customers in five different states.” Tom said. “We are great for the local economy. We are taking product in from other states and adding significant value here in Oklahoma.”
He added, “We buy ten semi-loads of grain a day and ten to fifteen semi-loads of hay each week from local area farmers.”
Two issues that are often top-of-mind for consumers are also top-of-mind for Tom and the entire staff of Buffalo Feeders — animal care and environmental impact.
The feed yard employs consulting veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure the health and performance of the animals.
“Maintaining a healthy rumen is key to maintaining a healthy animal. We use a lot of natural products that are similar to a pro-biotic in humans to encourage growth of positive bacteria in the rumen.” Tom said. “We have been successful in lowering the overall use of medical treatment through the use of these products.”
He added, “The environmental side of our business is huge.”
A consulting environmental engineer is a key member of their staff who takes soil and water samples quarterly to monitor an overall environmental stewardship plan.
“We clean every pen each time cattle ship out of it. We scrape up all of the manure, haul it out to a stockpile and allow area farmers to take it for a natural fertilizer for their crops. We record which fields it goes to; how much is applied; and we take samples from those fields to monitor nutrient levels.” He said.
“By hauling that out we reduce the amount of dust in dry periods and reduce the mud depth during wet periods.” Tom added. “Every pen has a mound that is large enough for each animal to lay on to keep them out of the mud if we do have a wet period.”
Buffalo Feeders maintains an extensive lagoon system to capture excess water and runoff on site.
“There has not been a rainfall event in the last fifty years that we could not capture. Last year, when we received about 30 inches of rain in May and June, we easily held it and could have easily held it again.” Tom recalled.
Tom views Buffalo Feeders and other animal feeding operations as an efficient and cost-effective way to provide quality beef to consumers in Oklahoma and around the world.
“When we talk about issues of hunger, it becomes a moral issue of providing a low cost food supply. It is a national security issue to be able to provide a low cost food supply. And, it is absolutely safe.” He said.
Beef production is more than just a business for Tom and his staff at Buffalo Feeders.
“Most of our employees have been here over fifteen years. This is more than just a job, it is a lifestyle and something we are passionate about.” Tom said.
“The Beef Project” is the Fanning family’s way of tying their passion in with serving their community.
“As a family we donate a full beef each month that is distributed through local food pantries in Buffalo, Fort Supply and Laverne. Our children manage the program for our family and it has been an amazing opportunity for all of us.” Tom said.
He concluded, “It’s not all about profit — it’s about making a difference in the lives of our customers, our community and our families.”