“Change is the only certainty in the cattle business.”
If there’s anyone qualified to make a statement about the beef industry, it’s Pat Koons of Burdick.
A lifelong cattleman involved in every phase of production at one time or another, Koons has recently made the transition from western Kansas feedlot owner-manager to Flint Hills cattle grazer-operator.
That hasn’t slowed Koons down as telephones are almost constantly ringing while he continues friendly visits, business decisions and management advice with his vast livestock acquaintances across the country.
“Challenges are being faced in every phase of cattle production,” Koons continued. “Now, I’m optimistic, but those in the trade will have to make changes, or they’ll be left behind.”
Increased inputs were the first concern aired by Koons. “Higher expenses are hitting everybody who is working in the beef business,” Koons emphasized. “While fuel and transportation costs are the immediate worry, there are a number of other issues that impact profitability.”
Conceding that feedlot net income has been marginal for three years, Koons pointed out cow-calf operators and those backgrounding or grazing cattle have typically experienced profitability. “We will probably see pressure filtering down to them,” he predicted.
Consolidation of packers, feedlots and other phases of the industry is a fact-of-life. “Currently, the Justice Department is considering approval of reducing five major beef processors down to three,” he pointed out. “Likewise, more feeding businesses are being merged, along with corporate ownership of cow-calf, backgrounding and farming enterprises.”
Cautious in his analysis of those changes, Koons clarified, “I’m not here to say it is good or bad. We can only watch, because time will tell what happens.”
More efficiency will be seen in the industry, according to Koons. “Packers have already begun changing and economizing operations, like the reductions and transitions at the Tyson plant in Emporia,” he recognized. More closings of inefficient plants are expected, with some facilities becoming cow processors.
Local and individual ownership of fed cattle is on the decline. “There will be more and more inventory in the hands of large companies from conception through meat over the sales counter,” Koons forecasted. However, more smaller producers are seen retaining ownership of a calf through carcass with a “nitch market.”
“Producers will have to become more efficient on all levels,” Koons advised. “Mother Nature is the overriding factor, but cattlemen must have flexibility, willingness to do new and different practices and plan marketing strategies.”
Ethanol production has been an intruding factor on corn prices. “The bloom is off ethanol now, and I don’t see as much corn demand there as originally expected, unless they increase efficiency or tax incentives are adopted,” summarized Koons.
By-products from ethanol manufacturing have proven to be efficient feedstuffs in growing and finishing rations, but they do require additional management, Koons pointed out.
Expanding sales to other countries have increased beef demand, Koons credited. “Exports are essential to our markets, and I think changes in packing management point to even more foreign sales.”
Specialty products, such as hormone-free meats, are becoming an integral part of the beef business, too. “This also requires more management, but we have to do what it takes in order to sell more pounds,” Koons qualified.
Reducing stress on cattle has become essential. “Cattle handling techniques can be changed so we don’t pressure our cattle or ourselves,” Koons noted. “We might think it takes more time initially, but in the end, everything will work out better if we use our patience and mentality.”
From his birth October 20 during the great flood of 1941 on the Old Homestead Ranch, north of Council Grove where his dad Eldon was cattle manager, through several diverse cattle endeavors, Pat Koons is probably best known as partnership-owner-manager of Kearny County Feeders, a 25,000-head custom lot at Lakin.
“I’m not working at the feedlot now, but I still have holdings there and communicate about the business on a regular basis,” he clarified.
While Koons was growing up, his dad was employed at several different operations including a stint at the Silkville Ranch, a Hereford herd near Williamsburg. “After high school, I enrolled at Kansas State University and worked in the purebred beef barn,” Koons related.
His boss was Miles McKee, purebred herdsman, and Koons was a member of the KSU Livestock Judging Team, coached by Don Good. “Those two men had a strong influence on me, and lots of young people, in the cattle business,” credited Koons.
Graduating with an animal science degree in the winter of 1962 and engaged to his future wife, Patricia (George), Koons was called into the Army during the Vietnam conflict. “I was fortunate and served two years in the military police at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.”
After Army service and marriage, Koons worked on the Dewey Ranch, south of Manhattan, under tutorship of Kenny Berg. “That was my start of the real world, and I had the best man to get me on track,” Koons verified.
During this time, Koons also began getting his best training as a horseman. “We handled our own cattle on horseback, and also helped other ranchers over a wide area. I knew I was supposed to have my horse fed, saddled and ready to go at 5 o’clock or I’d be left,” Koons admitted.
A position as manager of the OK Ranch, south of Junction City, was offered to Koons by owner Wint Winter, and he took over that Hereford operation. “Simmentals were first being introduced in this country, and we started artificially breeding our cows to Simmental bulls to increase their muscling and performance,” Koons recalled.
When CattleFax, a Colorado-based marketing service, opened an office in Kansas, Koons was named to the analyst position in 1971 and worked out of the Kansas Livestock Association headquarters in Topeka.
“My brother-in-law, Virgil Huseman, was in charge of the feedlot division, and John Meetz served as the executive secretary. We had lots of meetings with large attendance all over the state,” Koons reminisced. “I thought I would always be a ranch manager, but things change. I’d been in that job less than a year, when I had opportunities to manage feedlots in western Kansas.”
Several feedlots were considered, and Koons decided to settle at Lakin. “A whole lot of timing was just right. I was used to the Flint Hills, but we moved to the High Plains. Mrs. Pat said, ‘We’re coming out here to stay,’ and we did,” he reflected. “I’d been there 34 years when I retired at the first of this year, but I still have interests as an owner, work with customers and am involved in cattle programs.”
On the cutting edge of the industry, Koons has seen peaks, valleys, challenges and transitions, such as those taking place now. “It’s such a big business, so dynamic with big dollars. The split second decisions one has to make and the excitement really made it an enjoyable career,” Koons acknowledged.
Upon their move to Kearny County, a quarter section of land with a home on it was acquired not far from the feedlot. The Koons had two sons, Vince and Bill, when Patricia was diagnosed with cancer. “That really set us back, but Mrs. Pat put herself into redoing our ranch-style home, and we were able to enjoy that until she passed away in 1983,” Koons stated.
Later, Koons married his current wife Sharon (Dechant), a western Kansas farm girl who was a special education teacher at Lakin and attended his church. “She is 17 years younger than I am, so that was the talk of the small town for awhile,” he remembered.
Pat and Sharon have three children. John is in graduate school at K-State where he was on the judging team. Danny was on the Garden City Community College meats team and will be a coach for that group this fall before attending K-State. Betsy just graduated from high school and plans to attend college at Garden City next term.
Also K-State graduates, Vince is a banker at Meade, and Bill is an engineer in Iowa. There are four grandchildren.
“Our children have been have been very involved in 4-H work. They’ve all been successful showing steers,” Koons commented. “We have a small cow herd that’s ranged from a dozen to 25 cows to raise club calves.”
The two older boys weren’t interested in horses, but the three younger children have exhibited horses. “They’re nuts about them and pretty good, too,” Koons added.
Upon considering retirement, Koons wanted to return to his roots and feels fortunate the family was able to negotiate a deal on the 200-acre former Wm. Atkinson & Son ranch headquarters 3 ½ miles east of Burdick on Diamond Creek Road.
“I didn’t want a big place, but this is large enough for us to keep our cowherd,” Koons analyzed. “We are neighbors to Jack Vanier’s Diamond Creek Ranch on the east and former Senator Nancy Kassebaum’s ranch on the north.”
Having owned the property four years, Koons has spent many weekends and free time working there. Sharon has completely restored the historic ranch home. “We have room now so the whole family can home for the holidays,” she noted.
Calling their place a “work in progress” as changes and improvements are continually being made, Koons is also in involved with Vanier in looking after land and cattle holdings in the area.
A heart attack and five by-passes just two years ago may have slowed Koons down a bit, but his enthusiasm is strong and attitude bright as he continually grins and laughs while reminiscing about the past and looking to the future.
Pat Koons shows the bronze given to him by longtime partners Brad and George Tate when he retired from 34 years as manager of Kearny County Feeders at Lakin. Other pictures and awards signifying his diverse endeavors in the cattle business are also on display in the office of his refinished ranch home near Burdick in Morris County.
His employees gave Pat Koons this handmade, appropriately engraved saddle when he recently retired as manager of Kearny County Feeders at Lakin. It hasn’t been on a horse yet, but Koons has a handful of buckskin Quarter Horses where he’ll put the saddle to use this spring. “The best horse I ever had was named Big John. He was a proven ranch horse. I have some more that’ll be just like him right out there in the pasture,” Koons indicated.
Pat and Danny Koons are proud of the buckskin Quarter Horses they have on their ranch near Burdick. All of them came from Titus-Stout Quarter Horses at Cottonwood Falls and feature Zans Rawhide and Sun Otoe breeding. “Danny has been riding these horses at the feedlot all of their lives, and now they’re being used here in the Flint Hills. My horse is called Little Dan, and that darker horse, Willie, has been shown by my daughter Betsy to win lots of awards,” Koons indicated.
Pat Koons and his family have maintained a small commercial cowherd for a number of years to produce show steers, which have collected awards over a wide area. With calves sired by leading club calf bulls, the herd is now grazing brome on the Koons’ ranch east of Burdick, where Pat and Danny discussed trends and changes in the cattle industry.