Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg and Colorado Rep. Brianna Buentello (Dist. 47) traveled to Rocky Ford last month to hear from Robert Petty of Rocky Ford Feeders. Greenberg visited cattle yards in Lamar the previous day as part of an agriculture tour through Southeastern Colorado.
Greenberg and Buentello met with Bruce Fickenscher of the Colorado State University Extension Office and Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin before heading west down U.S. Highway 50 to talk with Petty and tour the property.
Buentello and Greenberg, riding in Petty's pick-up, patrolled the border fence at Rocky Ford Feeders. The representative and commissioner sat in the back seat, asking questions and occasionally rolling the windows down and then back up again to get clearer views of the cattle without losing too much of the cool air filling up the cabin.
"I don't know jack about cattle by myself, but Kimi Lewis was telling me that cattle wasn't born and raised in one spot anymore," Buentello said to Petty.
"Very few if at all," Petty said.
Most of the cattle at Rocky Ford Feeders come from Idaho, much like the company's new owner, who bought the place last August.
Some of the cattle were purchased at a Syracuse, Kan., sale. Even locally bought cattle from Winter Livestock were probably not locally raised, said Petty.
Buentello and Greenburg asked if any cattle originated in Mexico. They were concerned that cattle were entering U.S. livestock markets with antibiotics in their bodies.
"There's a quarantine at the border, but that doesn't let us know what they had in Chihuahua," said Petty. "The United States (has) most of the good pharmaceuticals, so everything we use is fairly low withdraw."
Petty said he's never shipped any animal out of the feedlot that had not been cleared of antibiotics.
Each animal that's received medical treatment is marked by a white ear tag, said Petty.
Greenberg asked if there is a way to treat which cattle from Mexico had been treated with antibiotics, to which Petty replied, no.
However, Petty said, the cattle remain in the feed yard longer than their bodies would retain any antibiotics.
"Even if they've got a 90-day antibiotic in them, these animals are here for 180 (days), depending on the site. It's really not a concern for us because we won't ship them."
The precise holding time depends on the size of cattle, too.
Holsteins, a favorite of Petty's, arrive at the feed yard at about 350 pounds. They'll be fattened up over about 360 days until they reach 1,400 pounds, said Petty.
"I really think we've got the best beef in the world," said Petty. "And I'm not plugging the FDA ... but they've set guidelines, and we live up to those guidelines. We're forced to, morally and legally."
Buentello and Greenberg pivoted the discussion toward "Made in Colorado" labeling. Buentello asked if Petty would be in favor Colorado Proud beef labeling, or something of that nature.
Petty said he'd be in favor of anything that helped Rocky Ford Feeder's marketability.
"If it's just going to cost somebody money ... no," Petty said.
Greenberg wanted to know how business was going for Rocky Ford Feeders. Are they growing or expanding?
"This past year has been phenomenal for feed yards," said Petty. "Expanding the feed yard, that'll never happen. As far as keeping it full, we will see it full except for. ...
"Well, it depends on the economy."